The Corner

The State of the Union Was Dull

Boring speech. Jaded man. Waning presidency. I’m in the Williamsonian camp on the State of the Union per se, but when the event is combined with a president like Obama it’s almost unbearable. Throat-clearing sentences such as this one are par for the course, echoing sentiments expressed in years past:

Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: it is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

The chamber speaks with one voice during the State of the Union because only person is allowed to speak. Contrary to the implication of its celebrants, this isn’t a cause for celebration but for alarm. Beware chambers that speak with one voice, don’t laud them! The legislature is there because people don’t agree, and because we’d rather that they argued with one another than started a war. Why that body needs annually lecturing by the executive branch for doing its job I will never know.

This, too, was typical:

For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.

This gets the problem completely wrong, preceding a meaningless concession with a begged question. The “important debate” is over what the “basic functions of our democracy” are. 87 percent of the government kept running during the shutdown, remember, and the primary contention was the product of a not-yet-fully-implemented law that remains unpopular. When politicians say, “sure, we need a debate but not if it stops us doing the vital things” they are attempting to steal a base. With this president, the trick is quotidian.

Other than that, I think Ramesh nailed it last night: this was “a laundry list of mostly dinky initiatives, and as such a return to Clinton’s style of State of the Union addresses.” Most astonishing was the disconnect between the speech and the president’s agenda. Obamacare, quite the biggest story of the last five years, was only briefly mentioned – without any concession that there have been problems and with the tired repetition of is now a deliberate lie about Republican alternatives — while the two biggest agenda items for Obama’s second term got almost nothing: gun control was crowbarred in so that Moms Demand Action wouldn’t start crying, and immigration was addressed without passion or novelty.

A few audacious mendacities jumped out:

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

This is classic Obama. The executive branch only has influence over public lands. The increase in output has come from private lands, over which he has no control. So, he simultaneously took credit for a boom that has occurred outside of his remit (and that he largely opposes), and promised to continue blocking development in the area he can influence. Spectacular.

This, too, prompted a little squeal:

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.

What a way of saying that the federal government essentially nationalized student loans. If taking over an industry is “working with lenders to reform” then the British bombing raid at Dresden was the Royal Air Force “working with the people of Saxony to rearrange their city” – or the Builders’ Reinvestment Act of 1945, perhaps. Words mean something: If the president believes that the government should be in charge of university funding, he should say so. Otherwise, spare us the euphemism.

Remember when Obama was interesting?