The Corner

A President Who Says No

The takeaway from President Obama’s State of the Union address is that the disconnect between the president and the American people has never been clearer.

As the cameras panned to skeptical or incredulous members of Congress (and not just Republicans), the president blamed nearly everyone and everything for the failure of his agenda to date — everything, that is, except for the substance of his policies.

In a meandering speech in which he seemed somewhat smug but not really in command, he scolded the Supreme Court, Congress, and “Washington.” He struck a surprisingly confrontational tone — a somewhat unusual tone for a president at a showcase event — toward the Republican side of the chamber. In a passage clearly written to be said to the Democrats but delivered (with a hint of venom) while looking directly at the Republicans, he said, “And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.”

But mostly he showcased his own understanding — or lack thereof — of the proper limits  of government, while indicating that he has no intention of ceding ground to the electorate and its rejection of his agenda in the recent elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and, particularly, Massachusetts.

He implicitly compared Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts to the Union’s loss at Bull Run (at least it sure sounded like it): “But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run . . . victory was very much in doubt. . . . Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.” One wonders: Are the Massachusetts voters who rose up against Obamacare supposed to be the Confederates in this scenario?

Regardless, the message was clear: Don’t listen to the voters, and don’t back down on Obamacare: “Change has not come fast enough”; “when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular”; “we still need health-insurance reform”; it may not be “good politics,” but “we are closer than ever”; “the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills”; “I want everyone to take another look. . . . Let’s get it done.” Throughout much of this section, there was noticeable silence in the chamber.

To the extent that the president took responsibility for his health-care agenda’s troubles, it was “for not explaining it more clearly.” But this, he made clear, was no reason to turn back.

As much as President Obama doesn’t like it when the Republicans say “no,” it’s clear he has no problem saying “no” himself. The difference is that the Republicans say it to him, while he says it to the American people.

 

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