Like a molting iguana freshly liberated from his old skin, the president of the United States seemingly left behind the left-wing incarnation of Barack Obama on Tuesday night. The president’s State of the Union speech was gracious, stirring, and soaringly eloquent about a nation for which innovation “doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” On a sunny, Reaganesque note, the president declared: “We do big things.”
The Obama who last October called Republicans “our enemies” was AWOL, as was the Obama who said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as . . . the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” On Tuesday, the president called America “not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.”
The president proposed an unprecedented five-year domestic-spending freeze. Even though that still would leave spending at today’s vertiginous heights, it would have sobered the fiscally intoxicated Obama of $814-billion-stimulus fame. The president hopes to “lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years.” This would have shaken the Obama who decried “fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.”
Offering something for every political orientation, the president praised the demise of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy while also urging universities to stop banning ROTC programs, now that the Pentagon will end the military’s anti-gay discrimination.
Is Obama a doctrinaire socialist, eager for Washington to control everything from health care to student loans to water flow in shower heads? Or is the president the ultimate pragmatist, who watched the voters turn right last November and now marches right beside them, if not slightly ahead on some issues?
Answer: Maybe both.
Obama may believe that the best way to protect the Left is to move sufficiently centerward to re-enchant enough independents to win his own reelection, reduce the GOP’s congressional strength, and possibly reinstate a Democratic House of Representatives. Thus, liberalism would live to fight another day.
Or perhaps the president finally understands that the American public has had it with Washington’s mammoth expenditures and mousy results. While his desired “investments” in science education, bullet trains, and green energy are just redecorated spending plans, at least these seem more modest than Obama’s outright nationalizations and 13-figure price tags.
Republicans should push the president further by addressing his concerns, though through limited-government, pro-market reforms.
• The president said, “Our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable.” How true. Rather than keep borrowing, Congress should pass the Full Faith and Credit Act introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). It would let America leave the debt limit intact and avoid default by putting bondholders first in line for federal checks.
• “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation,” the president remarked. Tax-free-patent legislation would allow individual and corporate inventors to generate income from new patents and pay zero federal corporate taxes for ten years. The president’s signature would let a million Edisons bloom.
• Rather than have Uncle Sam manage infrastructure projects nationwide, Washington should send states block grants with the sole instruction that high-speed railways and other luxuries will have to await, say, the repair of wobbly bridges that would collapse beneath them.
• Democrats and Republicans finally must lasso entitlements. Affluence testing for benefits is both moral and thrifty. Also, Americans should enjoy private Social Security investment accounts as a private option. Even easier, Social Security and Medicare must recognize that Americans routinely live into their 80s, and will thrive even longer if science and medicine remain unfettered. Thus, benefits should be delayed for Americans born after 1959. Children of the 1960s should become eligible at age 69. That ’70s demographic should collect at 70. Kids born today should see benefits at 74.
Liberals who tremble with compassion cannot call this heartless. The alternative? Let Social Security and Medicare implode on schedule.
If the president helps Republicans enact such measures, he could succeed by becoming exactly the man whom voters thought they had elected: Bill Clinton with a better tan and a tight grip on his pants.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.