The president’s State of the Union Address contained the usual list of uncontroversial, small-bore ideas. It also contained some surprisingly good rhetoric, such as this passage: “Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”
If only President Obama really believed that. In the very same speech, he defended his administration’s past bailouts and handouts, and called for more.
But the real thrust of the speech came at the end, when Obama made his pitch for such ideas as higher taxes on the wealthy and a reorganization plan for the federal government. Once again, the current president invited comparison with Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1937, with his tax and regulatory policies kicking in to trigger another sharp economic downturn, President Roosevelt resorted to two main arguments to defend himself: (1) greedy capitalists were sabotaging the economy, and (2) he still lacked the power necessary to advance his agenda in Washington.
Roosevelt prevailed with his court-packing scheme to intimidate the conservative Supreme Court into capitulating on the constitutionality of Obamaca . . . – er, I mean the New Deal. But Roosevelt’s other initiative, a reorganization plan designed to increase his power vis-à-vis the Congress, didn’t fare so well. Led by Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Democratic senator Josiah Bailey of North Carolina, among others, a bipartisan coalition arose to defeat the bill in 1938. More than 100 Democrats crossed party lines to vote it down. That fall, Roosevelt suffered one of the worst midterm election defeats in American political history.
Now we have President Obama giving a State of the Union address in which he complains about undertaxed capitalists and calls for a reorganization plan that, no matter how attractive it may sound on the surface, is likely to transfer more power to the executive branch.
Who will challenge Obama’s politics of envy and block his latest grab for power? Who will play the role of Vandenberg or Bailey? Of the presidential candidates still auditioning for the part, none has yet proved he possesses the mix of personality and principle necessary to the task.
― John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation, a public-policy think tank in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Three things struck me about President Obama’s lengthy State of the Union address. First, this concept of “an economy that’s built to last” is a fatally flawed view of how an economy works. When market advocates talk about the economy, they discuss the economy in terms of its fluidity, its variability, or, most famously, its creative destructiveness. Obama’s view, in contrast, seems to be one of building a hard immovable structure, as if one could pin down a moving, breathing economy at one mythical point in time.
In addition, Obama devoted only 44 words out of 7,000 to his expensive and unpopular health-care law, his so-called signature achievement. He made the claim that “our health-care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program,” which an AP fact check called only “half true.” Even that may have been generous. The law does in fact create a new program, with multiple new government bureaucracies to administer its subsidies, exchanges, and new insurance regulations.
Finally, I was distressed by the fact that the president mostly ignored our looming debt crisis, a topic Governor Daniels covered at far greater length in his significantly shorter remarks. The president can say all he wants that we can solve our problems if we would just work together, but he must first recognize the problems before that can happen.
— Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.