Toss in Senator Ted Cruz (R–Texas) questioning Secretary of Defense designate and Vietnam War hero Chuck Hagel’s patriotism and North Korea reportedly testing a nuclear weapon and eventually we have the making for a great made-for-TV movie. Against this backdrop of dramatic events Obama gave what amounted to a long, boring, and not terribly inspiring speech. There was nothing bold, there was no big idea, and it was just bland and predictable.
Obama laid out his agenda for the next four years. It was a familiar agenda, one we heard repeatedly throughout the 2012 election. It included the typical call for bipartisan support of his objectives and an admonishment for congress to take action. The speech will provide fodder for both Obama’s supporters and opponents. There will be the standard responses from liberals and progressives who will find encouragement in his words and from conservatives and libertarians who find despair in his plans.
There will be no need to do a deep dive analysis of Obama’s speech. Just roll out the standard responses from all quarters and then move on with the budget talks, immigration reform and gun legislation. For example, Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.
Liberals and progressives are going to applaud this as a way to ensure that every working American has a “living wage.” They will say it is a way to increase the standard of living for the working poor. This will give conservatives and libertarians an opportunity to flood the internet with Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell articles, references, and links. Expect Sowell and/or Williams to rehash their opinion on how the minimum wage destroys the economy.
Early in the speech, Obama reiterated his support for a balanced approach to solving the debt and deficit crisis, including raising taxes on the wealthy along with spending cuts. He even signaled a willingness to support modest reforms in Medicare. Liberals and progressives will applaud his effort to take a balanced and responsible approach and libertarians and conservatives will call it a re-commitment to class warfare.
Obama reiterated his support for Obamacare and an infrastructure program. Liberals and progressives will applaud the effort as a growth program. Conservatives and libertarians will denounce it as a growth in spending and the deficit.
Obama asked for investments in R&D programs that liberals and progressives say create jobs and support innovation. Conservatives and libertarians will say the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. That is the role of the private market.
Obama said he would use executive actions to address the growing consequences of climate change. Liberals and progressives will see this as bold leadership. Conservatives and libertarians will see it as another example of Obama violating the constitution and his attempt to create an imperial presidency.
Obama proposed investing in public education, including early education for pre-schoolers. Liberals and progressives will applaud the effort linking education to opportunity and prosperity. Conservatives and libertarians will renew their calls to eliminate the Department of Education and the NEA. They will say public education is a failure and particularly early childhood programs like Head Start.
Obama used raw emotion to appeal for sensible gun control legislation. Liberals and progressives will support that appeal, however conservatives and libertarians will consider it offensive to use emotion to rally support against their second amendment rights.
Liberals and progressives will find encouragement in Obama’s support for equal rights for women and the LGBT community while conservatives and libertarians will consider it divisive.
Obama laid out an agenda that he described as “smart” government. Conservatives and libertarians will view it as “more” government. Obama claimed that his objectives will not add to the deficit and that surely will be challenged by conservatives and libertarians. Conservatives and libertarians will fact check the accomplishments cited e.g. job growth in the manufacturing and clean energy sector as liberals and progressives celebrate the achievement.
The State of the Union speech was not a great speech. It was long, boring and predictable. Maybe the time for great speeches has passed Obama by. Liberals and progressives are content, conservatives and libertarians are feverishly preparing their rebuttals. Fact checkers are busy checking facts. All in all, there was nothing new to see or hear. There was no grand design, no bold vision, and no big idea. It was a work order. It was disappointing.