Cards on the table: I don’t like the State of the Union ritual, and I would applaud the next president, of either party, for doing away with it. It won’t happen, of course.
This is the quintessential Beltway performance, a weird little surrealist play in which every scripted line, ad-lib, invited guest, and round of applause is calculated to send messages, settle scores, goose poll numbers, and above all help the Ruling Class feel important.
SOTU is a day of wind-up, a grueling two hours of speech, response, and talking-head analysis, followed by a day of aftermath media, all of it meant to force us to acknowledge the Capital as the center of American life. It’s the Hunger Games without any Girl On Fire to rally the flyover districts against our corrupt overlords. (Sorry, Senator Ernst. High marks for speech content, competent delivery, and proper hydration, but you sounded a bit too much like the chipper computer voice that tells me Comcast is aware of service outages in my area and is working to fix the problem.)
By the time we hit the lame-duck phase of any two-term presidency, SOTU will inevitably feel like an aging rock band that keeps giving encores nobody asked for, the audience groaning and returning to their seats as each new tune tumbles from the dusty speakers. This is an especially acute problem for Barack Obama, who has essentially been giving the same speech since 2008, with minor topical modifications.
He’s still generous to a fault with other people’s money. He still has a very high opinion of himself, coupled with very thin skin. He remains confident that his supporters can’t remember anything he’s actually done as President, or how any of it worked out. His speechwriters are still cherry-picking out-of-context statistics to make his presidency seem less disappointing. He still over-promises and under-delivers. He’s still the little boy who screams about everyone else’s cookie-eating habits when he gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Most importantly, President Obama has not lost faith in the magical power of his rhetoric. He thinks he can make problems including Yemen, Islamist terrorism, al-Qaeda, and his assorted scandals disappear by not talking about them. While he was busy trying to wish Vladimir Putin away to the cornfield, Russian and Ukrainian forces were exchanging fire. The regime Obama worked hard to install in Yemen is coming down in flames, to be replaced by some miserable combination of an Iranian satellite and an al-Qaeda fortress, but you’d never know it from Obama’s cheery blather about the glories of his “smart power.” By Obama standards, it’s a foreign-policy triumph that the evacuation of the last American from Sanaa wasn’t shown on a split-screen while he was patting himself on the back for his diplomatic skills.
Senator Ernst’s response did a good job of filling in all the inconvenient truths Obama wants his followers to forget about. But it would have been more effective as a split-screen while the President was speaking, or maybe Speaker Boehner could have held up a tablet showing what’s really going on in the Middle East Obama has left in flames, the real data on our collapsing workforce and stagnant wages, Obama partying with the well-connected super-rich who have prospered so handsomely while everyone else languishes, the toxic-waste dump his pals at Solyndra left behind when Obama’s green-energy cronyism imploded, the promises Obama made for his trillion-dollar “stimulus” versus what actually happened, a reminder of what President Unity and his munchkins said about his opponent to win the 2012 election, the fleet of 1700 private jets winging toward the latest climate-change shindig while Obama was dishing out global-warming mythology…
More than most State of the Union speeches, this one was pure illusion, primarily intended to make Obama feel better about his midterm-election drubbing, advance his campaign to erase the results of that election, and give his dispirited fans something to hug for a few days. It was a deflated-football speech – easier for the intended receivers to catch, but flat and listless in everyone else’s ears. Every drop of whatever rhetorical magic Barack Obama ever possessed is gone, which makes it especially sad and funny to watch his more hyperactive media boosters shriek like teenage girls getting their first look at Elvis. They’re going to pull some muscles forcing themselves to swoon like that. Fortunately, they only have to keep up the act for a day or two, and then everyone will forget everything about this speech, except maybe the ad lib where Obama interrupted his hilariously fake plea for bipartisan unity to crow about winning two elections.
The most fun to be had on Tuesday night was keeping track of all the times Obama contradicted himself like that, often within the span of a few moments. After twenty minutes spent outlining billions of dollars in mandates he wants to drop on American business, followed by a promise to cripple American industry on behalf of the Church of Global Warming while China mumbles something about peaking its emissions fifteen years from now, Obama wondered why CEOS from around the world aren’t racing to relocate their headquarters in “competitive” America. This is like Smaug the dragon wondering why he doesn’t get more visitors in his lair.
As he has done after every electoral setback, Obama promised to seek out Republican ideas and work for bipartisan solutions… right after he promised to veto a series of Republican bills that have overwhelming popular support from the American electorate. Then he talked about the importance of battling vague, nameless “extremism.” Somebody call the Extremism Police – I just heard a guy threaten to frustrate the will of the American people by vetoing a bunch of popular legislation!
One of my favorite knee-slappers came when President Red Line In Syria inveighed against “bluster” in foreign policy. Just a few minutes later, he did a laughable tough-guy routine where he ominously warned that if Iran doesn’t drop its nuclear weapons program after Obama rolls over and gives it everything it wants, he’ll keep “all options on the table” for dealing with it. In truth, Barack Obama is one of the most blustery diplomats we’ve ever had as President – it’s just that nobody believes his bluster, because unlike Obama voters in the United States, foreign dictators remember what actually happens when his bluffs are called. They know the one and only firm principle in Obama foreign policy is, “Obscure the problem until my friends in the press point their cameras somewhere else.” Obama whistles past a lot of graveyards, with an obedient pack of blindfolded reporters parading behind him.
It was great fun to watch Obama try to take credit for lower gas prices, when he used to think they were impossible and undesirable, and did just about everything he could to make gas more expensive. He kicked off his Presidency musing that $8 gas would be ideal, as long as we reached that price point gradually, to avoid massive economic shocks. When he was taking big political heat for high pump prices, a sweaty Obama tried telling us to chill out and wait for algae-fueled cars to be developed. That didn’t work, so he tried blaming mysterious oil-speculator super-villains, prompting even his own advisers to scratch their heads and publicly wonder what the hell he was talking about. Now he wants us to think he personally engineered the $2.00 gas he mocked several Republican contenders for demanding in the 2012 election. Sure, whatever, man.
The most perfect summary of Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address is the fundraising letter he sent out, less than half an hour after railing against excessive fundraising. It’s such a thin act he puts on these days, and everyone can see through it, although he retains some worshipers willing to pretend they can’t. SOTU is the only way this fading rock-star President can still get a standing ovation from an audience old enough to purchase alcohol, so it’s a big night for him. Let’s hope the Republican Congress we elected to stop his vote-buying spree is up to the challenge.