“Trolling.” That’s the theme of commentary on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as he prepares to face a Congress that is totally controlled by Republicans. Since guiding his party to a staggering defeat in a midterm election in which he insisted that his policies were on the ballot, Obama has struck a defiant posture, as if the electorate had affirmed his leadership rather than rejecting it.
He announced a unilateral, “executive amnesty” for millions of illegal aliens–an act he previously said was constitutionally impossible. He also offered “normalization” with Cuba–for nothing in return. And he vowed to veto the Keystone XL pipeline, despite support from a clear majority of Americans and a clean environmental review from his own administration.
And yet Obama’s poll numbers have rebounded somewhat in the weeks leading up to the speech. That is largely because of renewed economic confidence at the start of the new year, as growth reaches its fastest pace in years and unemployment continues to drop, albeit with many people continuing to leave the workforce.
In advance of the State of the Union, the Obama administration leaked proposals for “tax reform” that are a radical shift from his previous, more modest suggestion of closing loopholes and lowering some corporate tax rates. Now, after losing the midterms, Obama plans to propose raising taxes on the wealthy and lowering them on the middle class, making the world’s most progressive tax system even more redistributionist and funding a new community college entitlement.
Despite economic optimism, Obama’s foreign policy is a mess as he approaches the State of the Union. He had to admit failure in his administration’s handling of the recent Paris terror attacks. The rise of ISIS in Iraq, as well as the looming Shia coup in Yemen, mock his claims of success in 2014 (see below). He failed to stop Russia from annexing the Crimea and invading Ukraine, and Congress has grown impatient at the extension of Iran talks. In short, he has some explaining to do.
This was a State of the Union that arguably ought never to have been given in person, given Obama’s deliberate flouting of Congress’s constitutional authority in the past several weeks. Media pundits have been lowering expectations in advance of the speech, however, which almost guarantees that it will be a relative success. In some ways it is Obama’s most important address–the moment of truth when he is forced to face an opposition he prefers to ignore or to goad from other platforms.
Summaries of previous addresses:
Touting economic success–including the “lowest unemployment rate in four years” and a soaring stock market–President Barack Obama used his 2014 address Congress to look past the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government” and to make Washington work. As in previous years, he cited economic inequality as a top prioritiy, and proposed to use tax reform to reverse it. Specifically, suggested closing tax loopholes that encourage companies to shift jobs abroad; and lowering the corporate tax rate at home, using new revenus to invest in infrastructure and help manufacturing.
Obama also cited the rise of the U.S. as a global energy power, pledging to “cut red tape” to help factories that use natural gas, and to continue investing in alternative sources like solar. In addition, Obama said, he would use his executive power to “set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.” He announced a review of job training programs by the Vice President. And he urged Congress to “get immigration reform done this year.”
Raising his bid from 2013, Obama proposed a new federal minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. He also announced–with no clear statutory authority to do so–a guaranteed-return retirement savings program called MyRA (which was greeted with skepticism). And he briefly claimed success for Obamacare enrollments, touting the policy’s expansion of insurance access.
In foreign policy, Obama claimed success in the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, promising that “America’s longest war will finally be over” after 2014. He pledged to disrupt terror networks in “Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali”–a pledge that looks foolish in retrospect–and said that Syria’s chemical weapons were being “eliminated.” He promised to change the country’s surveillance policies, and said that 2014 would be the year “we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” He also claimed to have “halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program” and vowed to veto any new sanctions passed by Congress–a threat that was taken seriously enough by Democrats’ Majority Leader Harry Read to kill the sanctions effort that year.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama set out a detailed agenda for his second term–a highly ambitious and diverse array of goals that few thought had any chance of succeeding in a divided Congress. Indeed, the only achievement during the subsequent year was an easing–not a reversal–of the sequester cuts that the President called a “really bad idea” (though they came from the White House).
The president focused–as he often does–on economic inequality, declaring that despite signs of economic recovery, “we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.” He set the goal of his administration as the restoration of “a rising, thriving middle class,” and devised a set of complex federal government policies and interventions to achieve that aim.
The president also highlighted some prominent social goals, including “background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun,” “tax reform and entitlement reform,” and “comprehensive immigration reform,” all of which seemed possible, or even likely, at the outset of 2013 but none of which was achieved due to scandals, fights with Congress over the budget and debt ceiling, and the Obamacare rollout.
The president also proposed goals that seemed less achievable–and, indeed, were ignored, such as universal preschool education and raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour ($10 in his 2014 proposals). In foreign policy, he pledged to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program–and did reach an interim deal by year’s end, though one critics said did not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He also promised to maintain pressure on the Syrian regime, which he failed to do over the course of the year.
In a preview of his re-election campaign, President Barack Obama used his 2012 State of the Union address to describe a horrific past to which he would not let the nation return. “No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits…to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men…to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.”
Touting the successful raid against Osama bin Laden, the president raised eyebrows by suggesting that the military was a model for how the country as a whole should work: “When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.” Gone were the days when Obama saw dissent as patriotic.
The president also talked up the nation’s economic recovery, and pledged to revive manufacturing, to confront China over trade, and (once again) to reform the nation’s tax code. He also repeated promises to focus on education, immigration reform, and renewable energy. In fact, so much of his 2012 address was repeated from previous years that the Republican National Committee released a side-by-side comparison.
Projecting election-year pride, Obama spoke about various achievements over his first term, telling Congress (inaccurately) that opinions of America had risen worldwide. Obama also made a false claim about the deficit that Democrats later repeated in various forms–namely, that he had cut $2 trillion from spending. He also promised that he would fight financial crimes, even though Wall Street has yet to face one prosecution related to the 2008 crash.
Obama did make–and deliver on–one new promise: to ban insider trading in Congress, a cause that began with Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer.
Three months after his party suffered massive midterm election losses, President Barack Obama addressed the new, divided Congress in his 2011 State of the Union address. He began by referring to the recent Tucson shootings as a reminder of the importance of unity amidst “the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate,” a theme Democrats in particular had stressed, as if that rancor were conservatives’ fault.
Obama’s soaring rhetoric on the economy was more restrained than in previous years. He lauded some positive signs: “[T]he stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.” Yet he acknowledged implicitly that jobs remained a challenge, calling for a new jobs bill. Putting a positive spin on bleak results, the president claimed the economy was “poised for progress”–a phrase he has repeated through today.
While promising a freeze on new federal spending for five years, Obama spoke about the spending he wanted to protect, particularly “investment” in innovation, education and infrastructure. The U.S. faced a “Sputnik moment,” he said, and had to rise to the challenge. He lauded programs such as Race to the Top, and promised to lower the corporate tax rate, review government regulations, consider tort reform, simplify the tax code, and tackle immigration reform–all of which he failed to do in the following years.
On foreign policy, the president repeated many of the points he had made in 2010, and added that gay troops would no longer be barred from service. He also endorsed the uprising in Tunisia that kicked off the “Arab Spring”; after being criticized for reacting too slowly to the radical changes across the region, now Obama sought to endorse them.
President Barack Obama began his 2010 State of the Union address by acknowledging that the country was still going through tough economic times. He took credit for cutting taxes “for 95 percent of working families” (in reality, a payroll tax credit that expired in 2011). Despite unemployment near 10%, he took credit for 2 million jobs that he claimed would otherwise have been lost; if true, that statistic referred to public, not private, jobs.
Obama described a number of economic proposals. He described a new lending fund for community banks, which failed by 2011. He lauded the start of a new high-speed rail project in Florida, which was eventually halted by the new governor. He promised that Solyndra would create 1,000 new jobs; it closed the next year. He pledged to double exports in five years; in the years since, exports hadrisen less than 30%. He also promised to help those struggling with student loans and mortgages; however, student loan delinquency is rising, and mortgage assistance programs were largely ineffective.
The president focused on Obamacare, which had triggered nationwide opposition, and promised it would “preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.” (Years later, the Congressional Budget Office revealed that 7 million would lose their insurance.) Obama also promised his plan would “bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses”–almost all of which has turned out to be untrue.
In one of the speech’s most memorable–and alarming–moments, President Obama rebuked the Supreme Court, which was seated in front of him, for their decision in the Citizens United case, charging that it would allow foreign corporations “to spend without limit” in U.S. elections. Justice Samuel Alito quietly mouthed the words: “Not true.”
Obama then attacked the culture of Washington, “where every day is Election Day.” He closed with strong words on foreign policy, pledging to fight Al Qaeda even as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan. He criticized human rights abuses in Iran, which he was slow to do during protests in 2009, and described nuclear negotiations with Russia.
In 2009, President Barack Obama addressed both houses of Congress in the midst of the worst of the recession, and delivered what was then one of the most ideologically-driven left-wing addresses by a president in American history. (He has since surpassed that with his second inaugural address). The president promised that we would “emerge stronger than before.” If so, looking back, we did not do so by the end of his first term.
Obama took aim at his predecessors, telling America that they had not previously met their economic and social responsibilities. He would, Obama promised, address that failure, starting with job creation. He promised that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e. the stimulus) would “save or create” create 3.5 million jobs in two years, more than 90 percent of which (i.e. 3.15 million) would be in the private sector, he said.
In fact, the private sector went on to lose 1.4 million jobs over the next two years. As Obama would later admit, many of the so-called “shovel-ready” stimulus projects simply weren’t. The president went on to attack the idea that government has “no role” to play in the economy, pledging to “invest”in “energy, health care, and education” while at the same time “cut[ting] back on programs we don’t need,” though he did not mention any.
Among other promises, Obama pledged to “double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.” (In fact, it rose by just over 10%.) He promised to pass health reform that would be “paid for” and would reduce the deficit. (Today, the costs of Obamacare continue to rise past estimates.) And he “pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.” In the near term, he ran deficits over $1 trillion.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak