As one who has been watching presidential State of the Union messages since the Eisenhower years, and has read a great many of them in historical research, I am conditioned to think of the SOTU as a serious occasion that lends itself to important policy formulations, and as the president’s night. I don’t believe in a reply by the other party and, whatever criticisms I may have of the incumbent, I always hope he will do well and uplift the country and impress the world. Usually, it has been a good address, and, occasionally in American history, it has been momentous. In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, almost a year before Pearl Harbor, but just ten days after telling the nation that America “must be the great arsenal of democracy,” and two months after winning American presidential history’s only third term, said in the SOTU address that “we must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and tinkling cymbal would preach the ‘ism’ of appeasement.” A year later, just a month after the U.S. entered World War II, he stunned the world, and roused the incredulity of Hitler himself, when he revealed American war-production targets (all of which were exceeded). While prepared to fear the worst, it was in this spirit that I tuned in to President Obama’s address last week, listening with particular attention because my friend Neil Cavuto had invited me to comment on it on Fox Business News.
Readers are entitled to candor: Though I sugared it a bit for the television viewers, I thought the speech was a disaster and an embarrassment. The president showered down on us a sequence of whoppers so astounding I thought at times that, in Margaret Thatcher’s phrase, “my ears were deceiving me.” The unmitigated shambles of his health-care reform, which has failed to deprive scores of millions of Americans of any insurance coverage only because the schedule of its application has been altered, he represented as a great leap forward for the average person. The president who demeaned his great office by padding around the Copenhagen environmental conference of 2009 (the most inane and redundant conference of national leaders in world history), trying to drum up a $100 billion annual fund of conscientious reparation to underdeveloped countries because of the contribution the economically advanced world had made to global warming, retreated to the more ambiguous menace of “changing climate” that was causing droughts and floods in various American states that his administration would alleviate. In the meantime, his countrymen could repose in confident serenity because “every four minutes a solar panel [is being] pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced.” No, Mr. President, it may be a revelation to you, but not to most of your listeners, that in situ manual labor cannot be outsourced.
He exhorted the Congress to “send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations.” A little specificity about what sort of bill he had in mind would have been welcome. Why not just pass a law that everybody had to be rich, healthy, and of pleasant disposition, as well as physically well-favored and preternaturally intelligent? Violence and its victims would be addressed by his pledge, “with or without Congress, to help stop tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, in our shopping malls, or schools.” Mr. Obama’s opposition to murder is not at issue, but this was an occasion to give the country, as he claimed to be doing, a plan of action. To those curious about his policy prescription, answer came there none.
These clangers were a mere sorbet before the foreign-policy feast of revisionism that was the full metal jacket of the speech. Thus, “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.” This was the president’s spin on the opéra bouffe of sending naval forces of retribution to Syrian waters with public orders to rain down cruise missiles after the Assad regime gassed its own people; then abdicating the powers of the commander-in-chief to the Congress; then — after Secretary of State John Kerry’s reassurance that the application of force would be “unbelievably small,” and seeing that the whole fatuous waffle was about to be pitched by the legislators the president was addressing — grasping like a drowning man the raft offered by that pillar of international law Vladimir Putin to supervise the unverified destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons. No matter; “we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve — a future free of dictatorship, terror, and fear.” I doubt that his congressional listeners were more than casually preoccupied with the deserts of the Syrians, but I do not dare imagine that the great American people deserves this pious bunk.