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“What the State of the Union Address Will Tell Us” by Clark Judge

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A preview from former presidential speechwriter Clark Judge:

What the State of the Union Address Will Tell Us
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. <> , and chairman, Pacific Research Institute <>

Tomorrow night Barack Obama will deliver this year’s State of the Union Address.

But who is Barack Obama?

Polls show that a sizable slice of the public has moved from seeing him as “liberal” to “moderate.” And with that change, his popularity has started rising for the first time in a year.

He may have presided over the biggest, fastest run up in non-defense spending in American history. But in recent weeks he has backed off opposition and signed an extension to the Bush tax rates, written of the need to reduce business regulation, and even made sounds about controlling spending. And with these acts, the public seems to be ready to give him a second look.

And clearly the American people as a whole want to like the president. He is, after all, an obviously intelligent, charming, and engaging man. What’s not to like, except the biggest grab for government power at home in any two years since the New Deal and the most emphatic telegraphing of an American administration’s lack of strength and resolve abroad since our move onto the world stage in the first decade of the 20th century.
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But, people may well be thinking, with the House of Representatives now in the hands of the GOP, the president’s inner socialist can no longer party until dawn and into the next day. The upright Republicans have locked the power booze in the cabinet. And maybe things will work themselves out overseas. We don’t like the GOP much anyway. Maybe the balance in DC will keep them both in check.

So with the country in the most receptive mood its been in months, the president will take to the podium before the joint session of Congress tomorrow night and launch his legislative program (which has become the real purpose of these events, other than presidential public relations) for the year ahead.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt that Mr. Obama is truly ready to move to the center. For example, according to this morning’s reports, he will call for a “responsible” reduction in the deficit this year. But insiders will know – or at least strongly suspect — that the word “responsible” is presidential code for “no cuts in spending.”

We just had a heart-stopping explosion in spending, of course. But economists like the Hoover Institution’s John Cogan (a former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and one of the nation’s top experts on the federal budget) tell us that almost none of that money actually went to stimulating the economy. Cogan has said that without major cuts, the country is now headed towards a federal budget that takes as large a share of gross domestic product every year as it did in the one peak year of World War II.

With that in mind, here’s a question: What specific spending cuts would Mr. Obama consider “responsible”? It is a fair guess that he has none, or very few amounting to a very tiny portion of the total. It is also a fair bet that he has a long list of new or additional spending that he wants.

But it is unlikely that the president will go into enough detail to give his audience any kind of informed feel for his moderating intentions tomorrow night. Still, here is one way to judge how chastened he is following the election.

In his widely and rightly praised speech at the University of Arizona, he called for a moderating of political rhetoric on both sides of the partisan aisle. In part as a response to that call, Congressional Democrats have announced that they will mingle with Republicans in tomorrow nights seating.

Immediately after the horrible shooting in Tucson, the left pounced on Republicans and particularly former Alaska governor Sarah Palin over the supposed violence of their rhetoric. By the time the president took the Arizona stage, it was clear (as it should have been within a couple of hours of the shooting) that political rhetoric had nothing to do with the deranged delusions that drove the young shooter to his deed. But Democrats thought they had a stick with which to beat Republicans, so they kept whacking as long as they could. To his credit, the president’s call for civility at the end of that week did not have a partisan tone.

But here is a simple fact: among office holders and former office holders, rhetoric coming from the Democrats has long been uniquely violent and incendiary.


After Katrina, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank accused President Bush of “a policy of ethnic cleansing” in New Orleans.

During the health care debate, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson angrily charged, “[T]he Republican health care plan is this: die quickly. That’s right. The Republicans want you to dies quickly if you get sick.”

Last week, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen compared the Republicans to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (which, oddly, he pronounced to rhyme with “gerbils” as in small rodents rather than “nobles” as in aristocrats).

If he wants to show that he is serious about transcending partisanship – a central claim of his presidential campaign and a mantle he appears trying to reclaim – the president can drop the pretense of violent rhetoric being one sided and call out tomorrow night for his own party to cool down.

One way or another, when the president takes to the State of the Union podium we will all get a glimpse of how much the changes brought to Washington after the election have actually changed Barack Obama.


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