Everything changes except President Obama. His agenda doesn’t change. He has had no second thoughts about the wisdom of his health-care policies, or any of his policies; resistance is always and only a reason for redoubling. Also unchanging is the condescension with which he articulates his agenda: He faulted himself for not explaining health care well enough to the easily confused American public. The same familiar strawmen dot the landscape of his rhetoric. (Republicans want to “maintain the status quo” on health care. This president is willing to listen to Republican ideas, just so long as he can then forget that he has ever done so.) Narcissism, too, is a constant companion. The opening of the speech, and the end, invited us to regard Obama as the embodiment of the nation. But it is not the country’s future that has suddenly come under doubt. It is his administration’s. It is not the country’s spirit that is in danger of breaking. It is contemporary liberalism’s.
“Let’s try common sense,” said the president. For Obama, that means that expanding Medicaid is the way to reduce the deficit. That increasing the price of energy is the way to create jobs. That further socializing medicine is the way to stay ahead of India. Nothing in his speech suggested that the government’s most important economic task might be to create the context of stability in which growth can occur. (Perhaps that thought would have interfered with the theme of “change.”) Beyond a pro forma sentence, nothing in the speech suggested that any positive economic trend could ever take hold without a direct assist from the federal government. Without its help, firms wouldn’t export or get credit. The proposal to forgive student-loan debt on special terms for people who go into “public service” typifies this administration’s attitude toward the economy: Producing wealth is less noble than rearranging it. On one of the country’s true economic challenges, runaway entitlement spending, Obama punted to a commission.
The president’s foreign-policy remarks were both perfunctory and otherworldly. Bringing our resources and our ideals into balance is always the difficulty in American foreign policy. Obama resolved the tension by pretending that he had consistently favored democrats and freedom-fighters the world over. In Iran, in Cuba, in China, his actual policy has been the reverse.
Anyone could find something to agree with in an endless speech, and we will dutifully applaud the president’s professed desire for new nuclear plants. All in all, though, our impression was of an administration that has no real understanding of the political straits in which it finds itself and thus no way to escape them.