But this speech will be remembered not for anything that was said but for where people sat, and for the fact that a new man sat behind the president for the first time, House Speaker John Boehner, who, if he leads well in the next year, could be in that camera shot long after President Obama has retired.
It would be puff talk to label the speech pedestrian. There was nothing new at all in the speech, and quite a lot recycled from old Team Obama rhetoric. In the run-up to the address, the gang at MSNBC were upset that the words “gun,” “ammunition,” “climate change” and “global warming” were not in the draft leaked before the president even entered the chamber, exclusions that signaled the president’s decision to continue his symbolic march to the center.
But with the exception of an invitation for the Congress to send him tort reform legislation, there was nothing centrist about the speech. Its tired old talk of “investments” like high speed trains, the attack on oil companies, and the demands for tax hikes underscored that the president simply lacks the intellectual flexibility to deal with the changed circumstances that both he and the country faces.
President Obama is out of gas. His ideology is not capable of dealing with the economic realities of governing and his emotional commitment to the core beliefs of the left won’t allow for the sort of innovation needed right now. He actually called for a government reorganization, the last gasp of a progressive with no chance of moving legislation. He is going to try and move the lines around on the federal flow chart and call it change.
Worst of all, in a speech in which he called for crucially necessary improvements in American education –and in speech made during School Choice Week— he proposed none. Just a few days ago Detroit announced a move towards a policy of what is essentially warehousing of kids and abandonment of physical capital, and the president is still touting one school in Denver he has been holding up for a year. On the subject of education where he could lead, could pull a “Nixon-to-China,” the president failed as badly as the math and science achievement levels he pointed to. President Obama urged parents to turn off television sets and encouraged young people to become teachers. That’s it. The president talked innovation, but he is the enemy of innovation that challenges the monopolies that dominate public education in most of the school districts across the country, and by doing so condemns another generation of children to the second-rate (if that) education he condemned in his remarks.
Detroit isn’t different, it is first. And given the president’s obvious fealty to the teachers’ unions, it is the first among many.
The spin may work for a day, but there was nothing in the speech that will be remembered beyond next month. It serves mostly as a signal that the president will be presiding for the next year, at least on matters domestic. It is up to the Republicans to tackle the very serious fiscal crisis, the solution to which has nothing to do with high speed trains and electric cars.