Politics & Policy

The State of Our Union Is Not Strong

President Obama delivers the 2015 SOTU address. (Mandel Ngan/Getty)
Our annual exercise in denial and unpersuasive optimism.

A president’s eighth State of the Union address is supposed to be his victory lap, a final year in the spotlight, in which he touts his achievements and then rides off into the sunset. Tonight, President Obama may utter the clichéd words, “The state of our union is strong!” If he does, it’s just one more lie upon the pile.

Obama will probably boast he brought the country back from the financial brink and try to argue that the American economy is doing well. (Avoiding “the brink” only took $8 trillion in new debt.) He will undoubtedly boast of the unemployment rate being only 5 percent. He will not mention the work-force participation rate of 62.4 percent, which hit the lowest level in 38 years this September. (In recent months, it bumped back up two-tenths of a percentage point.)

For more than three years, more than 46 million Americans have collected food stamps. For six straight years, more than 8 million Americans have collected disability payments. Dependent America is losing hope; a shocking new study paints a grim portrait of a despairing America:

The mortality rate for white men and women ages 45–54 with less than a college education increased markedly between 1999 and 2013, most likely because of problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide.

In his last State of the Union Address, Obama said that “wages are starting to rise again.” The Labor Department statistics told a different story, finding them flat in 2014. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average weekly earnings are up 3 percent from January 2009 — not 3 percent per year, but 3 percent over the entirety of Obama’s presidency so far.

If Obama does mention wages, it will probably be as an introduction to yet another call for a minimum-wage increase. Roughly 1 percent of the U.S. work force makes minimum wage.

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The president is unlikely to mention the number of Americans working part time who would like to find full-time work, roughly 6.5 million people. His most likely successor, Hillary Clinton, recently stated that Obama’s signature health-care law “built in some unfortunate incentives that discourage full-time employment.” The president will not acknowledge this.

All of Obamacare’s problems will be swept under the rug with some ‘we’ve come too far to turn back now’ podium-pounding.

He is more likely to talk about Obamacare as if it is a glowing success. He will not mention the fact that deductibles have risen more than six times faster than workers’ earnings since 2010. He will not mention that this year, health-insurance premiums on the individual marketplace are rising by double digits in 28 states or that 17 states will face average premium increases of 20 percent or more. More than half of the nonprofit health insurance co-ops formed through the Affordable Care Act are kaput, forcing 740,000 individuals and small-business employees to find new plans. He also will not mention that UnitedHealth Group Inc., the biggest U.S. health insurer, said in November, after taking losses, that it might stop participating in Obamacare next year, nor will he mention that Humana is signaling they may follow.

Obama will probably claim the enrollment for his program is high and growing ever higher. He won’t specify that a large portion of the “enrollment” comes from those who signed up for Medicaid. Nearly 10 million Americans have joined the Medicaid rolls since October 2013. These patients may have a difficult time finding a doctor, as less than half of all doctors — 47 percent — will accept new Medicaid payments because of the low reimbursement rate. All of these problems will be swept under the rug with some “we’ve come too far to turn back now” podium-pounding, which congressional Democrats will greet with euphoric glee. 

#share#President Obama is likely to talk about the strained relationship between police officers and African-Americans and throw some rhetorical bones to the Black Lives Matter movement. Race relations are at their worst since the O. J. Simpson trial, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in December, and multiple polls indicates Americans are growing more pessimistic about the ability to bridge the race divide. Is this what Americans expected when they elected the first African-American president? Did President Obama help matters by making Al Sharpton his “go-to man” on racial issues? When he told the New Yorker’s David Remnick two years ago, “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president”? Or more recently, when he said on NPR, “I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am,” did he improve things or exacerbate tensions by conflating criticism of him with racial hatred?

The president will certainly not mention the horrific New Year’s Eve attacks on women on the streets of German cities.

Obama might take time to tsk-tsk Republicans for being afraid of “widows and orphans” because many of them called for at least a pause in the settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. The president will not address the fact that screeners at the Department of Homeland Security approved the entry of San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik. Obama will not mention the two Iraqi-born Palestinian refugees arrested on terrorism-related charges last week. If anything, Obama will deflect attention by mentioning how hard-working America’s law enforcement and our national-security professionals are and insisting the screening process is “thorough.” He won’t address whether the process is thorough enough to prevent any malevolent-minded men from slipping through, or whether the benefit of admitting the refugees to the United States is worth the risk of another terror attack.

The president will certainly not mention the horrific New Year’s Eve attacks on women on the streets of German cities, nor will he seriously address the question of whether the United States can adequately assimilate large numbers of men from cultures where sexual violence is common and rarely punished.

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Like last year, President Obama may call for “better cybersecurity” — as if the entire executive branch of government had been run by someone else these past seven years. He is unlikely to say the words “Office of Personnel Management,” lest it remind the audience of two apparently separate breaches of its computer system, putting the sensitive information of about 21.5 million current and former federal workers in the hands of foreign hackers.

Obama will undoubtedly point to Iraqi forces re-seizure of Ramadi as a sign we are winning the war on ISIS. He will avoid mentioning that he took office in a world without ISIS, or that the self-proclaimed Caliphate now controls parts of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya, inspiring attacks from Paris to San Bernardino. Since New Year’s Day, ISIS has attacked a Libyan port, attacked a hotel near the pyramids in Egypt, opened fire at a Red Sea resort in Egypt, detonated a car bomb outside a shopping mall in Iraq, and allegedly inspired a man to shoot at a police officer in Philadelphia.

#related#Barack Obama’s time in the spotlight of American politics always involved a bit of happy fantasy: The man with the middle name Hussein would calm the tension in the Muslim world; the child of a black father and white mother would heal racial tensions; the one-term senator would bring bipartisan comity to Washington; the man who had never worked in a business outside of a law firm would bring broad, lasting prosperity. He famously pledged to bring care to the sick and that his ascendence to the Oval Office marked “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Any real-life president was destined to pale in contrast to that promised presidency. The true state of the union — as opposed to tonight’s happy talk — vividly illustrates the extent of President Obama’s failure.

The state of our union is worse than it was in 2012, and the next president faces an enormous task.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent of National Review.


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