The Corner

A Clintonian Speech

It seemed like a laundry list of mostly dinky initiatives, and as such a return to Clinton’s style of State of the Union addresses. Those speeches got some bad reviews as oratory but were pretty popular and I suspect this one will go over well too. The speech gives the president the opportunity to present himself as a reasonable guy working hard for the American public, and he did an effective job of that. A few of the ideas in the speech may even be good ones: the “myRA” proposal, for example, seems like it’s worth considering. But nobody is going to remember this speech two days from now — with the exception of Obama’s very moving closing remarks about Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg.

Earlier today there was some speculation that Obama would return to the theme of being a “transformative” president who liberated us from the legacy of Ronald Reagan. But the speech was much more cautious than that. The recent campaign against inequality was mostly forgotten (too late for some of the Republican respondents to adjust), cast aside for the theme of expanding opportunity, which has deeper roots in American opinion. Probably the best example of the president’s caution came in the section on gun control, which seemed to be there mostly so that nobody could say that it was not — and which mentioned no specific steps Obama was taking to “stand up for the lives that gun violence steals from us.” Obama is no longer even trying for a gun control as significant as the one Clinton got. So maybe saying it’s a Clintonian speech is giving it too much credit.

But of course in one very important respect Obama has achieved more than Clinton for the Left, and the speech reflected that too: He got his health-care reform through. Now he is trying to make the best of it while acknowledging none of its flaws and falling back on the insinuation that Republicans have no alternatives. This insinuation is less and less true, and if Republicans make more of that fact it will be yet another bad development for Obama’s signature initiative.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Other Case against Reparations

Reparations are an ethical disaster. Proceeding from a doctrine of collective guilt, they are the penalty for slavery and Jim Crow, sins of which few living Americans stand accused. An offense against common sense as well as morality, reparations would take from Bubba and give to Barack, never mind if the former ... Read More
Politics & Policy

May I See Your ID?

Identity is big these days, and probably all days: racial identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc. Tribalism. It seems to be baked into the human cake. Only the consciously, persistently religious, or spiritual, transcend it, I suppose. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor ... Read More

White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More


Someone tweeted this cartoon today, which apparently is intended to depict me. A few thoughts: I love the caricature. It’s really good. I may steal the second panel and use it for advertising. I hear this line of criticism fairly often from people who are not very bright or well-informed; in truth, I ... Read More