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A Sunday Look Back At SOTU By Clark Judge

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You had already forgotten it, right?  Clark Judge hasn’t:

State of the Union Address: An Admission of Failure
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute

On Tuesday night the President delivered his State of the Union address to a nation that has stopped listening to him.

The Rasmussen Reports publishes daily tracking poll results.  On Thursday it released its first results that include a full night of surveying after the speech.  It showed the president’s “approval rating creeping down to its lowest level since just before Christmas.” That is saying a lot as, among likely voters, the president has been under water – more disapproving than approving – for sometime now.  Just before Christmas was the height of Obamacare website meltdown.

Many pundits reviewed the speech as uninspiring.  I contributed to President Reagan’s 1988 State of the Union address, which was well received and launched us on a year that ended with the president leaving office with the highest approval ratings ever recorded for an exiting chief executive.  Still, I feel the “uninspiring” sniff is unfair to Mr. Obama.

These speeches receive tremendous hype in advance.  If an address – any address – is a man (or woman), a moment and a message coming together, what is the moment?  The calendar hits January – time for another address to Congress.  So if it is grand rhetorical moments you want, State of the Union time is generally not it.

Actually, as a matter of performance, I still find Mr. Obama and his speeches remarkable.  OK, he and his writers seem generally (not just Tuesday night) to lack a firm grasp of history, economics, literature, or the singular miracle this country is and how fragile and unduplicatable such a miracle may be. “Hold on… to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands,” Daniel Webster once pleaded. “Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.” The president and his writers seem oblivious to Webster’s wisdom.

But if I shut out his content, I hear music in Mr. Obama’s words and delivery.  Specifically, urban jazz.  Cool, abstract, in its way thrilling. The president’s performance was like that on Tuesday night, at least to my ear.

But his meaning was something else, and, as the polling indicates, I am not the only one who reacted that way.

Parts of it were bafflingly clueless.  Did he really propose a World War II and post-war style Savings Bond plan?  Why?  Any of us can go to our local bank and get better interest rates than the government will or should ever pay.  Is this idea a step toward doing to the banking system what he has done to our system of health care?  That worry popped up in Frank Luntz’s post-speech focus group, which seems to be on a different network each year.  This year it was Fox New Channel.

Parts were frightening.  Once again he vowed to employ his presidential powers in a manner that approaches – or has become – rule by edict.  How far has he gone already?  Well, not long ago Barney Frank – former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank! The most acerbic liberal’s liberal – complained that the administration was overreaching in implementation of Dodd-Frank, extending its reach into financial institutions that clearly did not come under the law,

But as he moved along I started to think, what we are hearing is an admission of failure.  We are five years into the recession.  The nation has recovered on two-thirds of the jobs lost in the downturn.  According to the Associated Press story that ran on the morning of the Mr. Obama’s address to Congress, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans receiving food stamps are of working age.

Did he have any serious program for creating jobs?  No.  He talked about raising the minimum wage.  Only 3 percent of American workers receive the minimum wage, half of them teenagers, a large portion of the rest in their early to mid-20s.  Not only is the minimum wage an economic side show, at a time when lack of jobs is the problem, one thing we know for sure about the minimum wage is that it destroys jobs.  Trotting out the minimum wage was just a move to change the economic subject from lack of jobs.

At the beginning of his presidency, the president embraced extreme neo-Keynesianism.  It has failed.  Some of us warned at the time ( that, after the monetary moves of President Bush’s last year, the best moves for the new president were cautious and limited – no flood of new spending, new taxes and regulation.  The economy was poised for recovery, if the new administration didn’t frighten it.  But the Obama team went in another direction – and now they have nowhere left to go.

That was the sad story of Tuesday night: after five years of failure, made worse by its catastrophic and fraudulently sold health care program, this administration has nowhere left to go.


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