Politics & Policy

Some Lessons from Obama

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, January 20, 2015. (Pool Image/Getty)

Republicans could learn a few things from President Obama’s State of the Union address.

It’s not that they have much to learn from his policies. The president took a victory lap for his economic policies because the economy is finally recovering. Funny, we don’t recall his selling them on the theory that in his seventh year as president Americans would begin to feel that the recession was over. He credited Obamacare for slowing health-care inflation, a trend that began in George W. Bush’s first term.

His future policies have just as little to recommend them: community-college subsidies premised on the idea that increased federal regulation is the path to improved performance; a global-warming agenda that does not pause to consider costs and benefits; subsidies for a form of child care that most American parents try to avoid; tax increases on the capital that is a prerequisite for the growth of the economy and wages.

He did show more political sense than Republicans sometimes have. His main theme of the night was a need for an economy that serves the middle class, always a winning one in a country where the vast majority of people consider themselves part of that category. Based on his new tax plan and, indeed, his whole career, he believes that an increase in the middle-class standard of living requires redistribution from the rich to them and from everyone to favored industries. Republicans ought to be able to make the case for a better way. That would not quite be beating Obama at his own game; it would be changing the rules of the game, by insisting that providing government benefits for the middle class is not the only way to help most people.

And he also set an example for Republicans in another respect. His agenda has no chance of being enacted by a Republican Congress, and everyone knows it. That has not stopped him from making his proposals, nor should it have. He is trying to influence the future of politics, including the 2016 elections, in order to advance these ideas over a time frame that goes beyond the 114th Congress.

Republicans should do the same thing with a conservative agenda to improve American life in tangible ways. They should do it even though making much of that agenda into law will require waiting for, and working to get, a better president.​

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