Krauthammer, Dave Boyer, Jennifer Harper Critique: Obama State of Union Speech

JANUARY 26, 2012 

Obama prefers easy demagoguery to big ideas.

By Charles Krauthammer

Once upon a time, small ball was not Barack Obama’s game. Not so with his State of the Union address. The visionary of 2008 — purveyor of hope and change, healer of the earth, tamer of the rising seas — offered an hour of little things: tax-code tweaks to encourage this or that kind of behavior (manufacturing being the flavor of the day), little watchdog agencies to round up Wall Street miscreants and Chinese DVD pirates, even a presidential demand “that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.” Under penalty of what? Jail? The self-proclaimed transformer of America is now playing truant officer?

It sounded like the Clinton years with their presidentially proclaimed initiatives on midnight basketball and school uniforms. These are the marks of a shrunken presidency, thoroughly flummoxed by high unemployment, economic stagnation, crushing debt — and a glaring absence of ideas.

Of course, this being Obama, there was a reach for grandeur. Hope and change are long gone. It’s now equality and fairness. That certainly is a large idea. Lenin and Mao went pretty far with it. As did Clement Attlee and his social-democratic counterparts in post-war Europe. Where does Obama take it? Back to the decade-old Democratic obsession with the Bush tax cuts, the crusade for a tax hike of all of 4.6 points for 2 percent of households — ten years of which wouldn’t cover the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus alone.

Which is why Obama introduced a shiny new twist — the Buffett Rule, a minimum 30 percent rate for millionaires. Sounds novel. But it’s a tired replay of the alternative minimum tax, originally created in 1969 to bring to heel all of 155 underpaying fat cats. Following the fate of other such do-goodism, the AMT then metastasized into a $40 billion monster that today entraps millions of middle-class taxpayers.

There isn’t even a pretense that the Buffett Rule will do anything for economic growth or job creation (other than provide lucrative work for the sharp tax lawyers who will be gaming the new system for the very same rich). Which should not surprise. Back in 2008, Obama was asked if he would still support raising the capital-gains-tax rate (the intended effect of the Buffett Rule) if this would decreasegovernment revenues. Obama said yes. In the name of fairness.

This is redistribution for its own sake — the cost be damned. It took Indiana governor Mitch Daniels about 30 seconds of his State of the Union rebuttal to demolish that idea. To get the rich to contribute more, explained Daniels, you don’t raise tax rates. This ultimately retards economic growth for all. You (a) eliminate loopholes from which the rich benefit disproportionately (tax reform) and (b) means-test entitlements so that the benefits go to those most in need.

Tax reform and entitlement reform are the really big ideas. The first produces social equity plus economic efficiency; the second produces social equity plus debt reduction. And yet these are precisely what Obama has for three years steadfastly refused to address. He prefers the easy demagoguery of “tax the rich.”

After all, what’s he got? Can’t run on his record. Barely even mentioned – Obamacare or the stimulus, his major legislative achievements, on Tuesday night. Too unpopular. His platform is fairness, wrapped around a plethora of little things, one mini-industrial policy after another — the conceit nicely encapsulated by his proclamation that “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or to Germany.” As if he can command these industries into existence. As if Washington funding a thousand Solyndras will make solar economically viable.

Soviet central planners mandated quotas for steel production, regardless of demand. Obama’s industrial policy is a bit more subtle. Tax breaks for manufacturing — but double tax breaks for high-tech manufacturing, which for some reason is considered more virtuous, despite the fact that high tech is less likely to create blue-collar jobs. Its main job creation will be for legions of lawyers and linguists testifying before some new adjudicating bureaucracy that the Acme Umbrella Factory meets their exquisitely drawn criteria for “high tech.”

What Obama offered the nation Tuesday night was a pudding without a theme: a jumble of disconnected initiatives, a gaggle of intrusive new agencies, and a whole new generation of loopholes to further corrupt a tax code that screams out for reform.

If the Republicans can’t beat that in November, they should try another line of work.

II ‘Where’s the guts?’ to confront fiscal crisis, critics ask

By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times, January 25, 2012

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. 
Deficit hawks are criticizing President Obama, who spent much of last year locked in acrimonious talks with Republicans over how to trim the $15 trillion federal debt, for all but ignoring the fiscal crisis in his election-year State of the Union address.

Mr. Obama barely mentioned the subject Tuesday night. Republicans who scrutinized the president’s speech calculated that he devoted just 2.8 percent of it to debt reduction, and that portion was largely a rehash of his call for higher taxes on the wealthy.

They also noted that he glossed over the country’s massive borrowing on the 1,000th day since Senate Democrats last approved a federal budget.

“He deliberately, calculatedly decided to ignore the ominous threat hanging over this country,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in an interview. “It’s a total failure of leadership.”

Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, a crusader for debt reduction, said Mr. Obama failed to level with the public about the tough spending choices faced by the government.

“The president did not admit that America’s financial condition was poor and deteriorating, and he failed to provide a clear path forward to restore fiscal sanity,” said Mr. Walker, founder of the nonprofit Comeback America Initiative.

During a visit Wednesday at a manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mr. Obama said more government spending is vital to generate more tax revenue.

“You hear a lot of talk about deficits and debt,” Mr. Obama said. “And those are legitimate concerns, although the most important thing we can do to actually reduce the debt is to grow the economy. So we can’t abandon our investments in things like manufacturing and education investment, because if we’re growing faster, the debt and deficits start coming down, the numbers get easier to manage.”

In his speech Tuesday night, Mr. Obama proposed using half the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for debt reduction. The other half would be spent on infrastructure projects and other programs.

Mr. Sessions said the savings from drawing down military deployments should be used to reduce “our enormous borrowing.” He noted that even Democrats on the president’s Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission advocated cutting $4 trillion over the next decade.

“He ignored it,” Mr. Sessions said of the president. “It’s going to be more difficult to achieve fiscal sanity this year without the president’s leadership.”

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, Wyoming Republican and co-chairman of the bipartisan presidential commission, also was unimpressed after the address.

“Where’s the guts? Where’s the hard stuff? Where’s the beef?” he asked rhetorically in an interview on Fox Business Network.

When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the national debt stood at $10.6 trillion. He has presided over three successive years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits, causing some policymakers to warn that the crushing burden will harm the very people Mr. Obama says he wants to help, the middle class.

“Nothing could be more devastating to middle-class working Americans than to have another recession or a collapse occur,” Mr. Sessions said. “The path we’re on is unsustainable. The debt is already impacting working Americans.”

In November, a congressional supercommittee failed to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings required by last summer’s agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. The failure triggers across-the-board budget cuts in defense spending and social programs that would take effect in 2013.

By the end of this week, the nation’s debt ceiling will be increased by $1.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion, with the Senate expected to reject a largely symbolic resolution opposing the increase.

III Forget the ‘Four Score’ soaring rhetoric

By Jennifer Harper

The Washington Times

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

President Eisenhower delivered a State of the Union speech that was written on a 12th-grade level. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

So much for the soaring rhetoric: the State of the Union speech was written on an eighth-grade level declares Eric Ostermeier, a University of Minnesota political professor who pored over President Obama’s address to find that multiple sentences were boiled down to five or six words. Yes, it lent a certain dramatic cadence. But the professor found the simplicity wearing.

“If the audience is Congress, as was the original, intended purpose of the speech, then brief policy outlines, episodic illustrations, and short sound bites are probably not very instructive,” says Mr. Ostermeier, who based his conclusions on something called the Flesch-Kinkaid readability test.

But Mr. Obama’s other State of the Union speeches were also at the eighth-grade level, giving him the lowest rating of any modern president in the speechifying department, and placing Mr. Obama in “almost unchartered linguistic territory,” the professor adds.

Who delivered a speech at the 12th-grade level? Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush managed it. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter lingered on the 11th-grade level, Bill Clinton in the 10th.

“Obama’s speeches are a continuation of a general pattern that finds as State of the Union addresses have perhaps become more and more political, they have been written more and more simplistically,” Mr. Ostermeier concludes. 



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