The Obama Charm was in full effect mode last night as he wowed the crowd and the nation with a slew of proposals, tough talk and a vision of the future that he always has when he’s got the mic in his hand. There were a few major things from last night’s speech worth noting, although to be honest, he did not make any radical break from his previous State of the Union Addresses.
1. No Civil Liberties for You
For those of us who are non-partisan civil libertarians, the speech did not have much to offer. President Obama said absolutely nothing about his recent signing of a bill that allowed for the indefinite detention of American citizens, not to mention the overbearing anti-piracy SOPA bill that went down in flames last week. The single greatest long term failure of the first term of the Obama presidency is his steadfast refusal to scale back the grotesque breaches of civil liberties that were passed under the Bush administration – under the guise of keeping us safe from terrorists. Obama made no moves to correct those problems, yet again, so I guess Rand Paul better get used to getting felt up at the airport.
2. It’s All About the Kids
A recent survey of 18 – 29 year old voters by the Garfield Institute at Hiram College revealed some interesting facts about Obama’s vaunted relationship with young voters. Obama’s support amongst young voters is at 50%: a 16 point drop from his early post–election days in 2009, but still higher than his overall approval in the country. Part of the reason behind this support is that over 57% of young people in the job market and 57% of young people who are both working and in school believe that Democrats and Obama are more likely to keep tuition costs down.
Well, Obama answered young people’s prayers last night when he proposed that state funding of colleges will not go up as long as colleges keep jacking up tuition costs. This got a huge cheer from the watch party crowd that I was with, but on a practical level the proposal made no sense.
In most cases tax funding to state colleges and universities is locked into the state constitution or budget, and tuition hikes have to be approved by the state as well. I understand the political power of saying that it’s not fair for taxpayers to keep subsidizing colleges that are pricing them out, but at the same time these increases are made with state and local government approval. More importantly, I don’t see how the president can mandate tuition controls on private colleges that may receive some state or federal funds but are free to make their own pricing decisions in general. Good politics, but bad policy.
3. Obama Does his Mr. Terrific Impression
Mr. Terrific is a black superhero in D.C. comics that is known for a couple of things. He has these 3 silver balls that float around his head giving him all sorts of technical advice. He is also the third smartest man on the planet and his enduring motto is “Fair Play.”
Now I don’t know if David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett count as floating balls, but Obama certainly is one of the smartest men in government and he certainly made a heavy handed pitch last night for “Fair Play”. Specifically in the form of his Buffet Rule, wherein the president consistently harps upon the fact that many regular salaried folks in America pay a greater percent of their taxes than the super-wealthy because of the tax code. Because salaried income is taxed at a higher rate than money that comes from investments or dividends, Guys like Mitt Romney are paying on average 10 to 15% of their income in taxes whereas a middle management woman at Allstate Insurance is probably paying 30%.
Obama consistently calls this unfair and was quick to remind everyone last night in the State of the Union that people like him and Warren Buffet shouldn’t be paying less in taxes than the office pool secretary. Given that Romney’s tax returns came out the day before the speech this was a specific body blow to his likely challenger. Fairly Played Mr. President, Fairly Played….
4. The Boyz II Men Method of Bi-Partisanship
Although Obama knows he’s at the e-e-e-nd of the road, but he ca-a-a-a-n’t let go of his bi-partisan dreams, they belong to him. Obama must wake up and smell the reality that Congress does not want to work with him. He’s at the end of the road of his presidency, he has not been able to adequately improve upon the main issue facing the country which is the high unemployment rate, yet he insists that he and the GOP can still work it out if they just try a little harder.
This is one of the biggest problems in what I’ve dubbed the Obama 2012 Re-Seduction Tour that masquerades as his re-election campaign.
You can’t keep trying to woo back voters from 2008 with promises of loyalty and commitment, but at the same time keep trying to work it out with your crazy ex in the GOP. It was never going to work, President Obama. She doesn’t want you and never did. Obama’s consistent pleas for bi-partisan action in last night’s speech came off as weak and naïve. The Republicans have no incentive to work with him on any legislation to improve the nation this year and they won’t even try. It’s time for Obama to stop pussy-footing around and make a commitment, either to his 2008 base that is still feeling neglected or to his fantasy coalition date of liberal Republicans and fiscally conservative independents. He kept trying to date them both last night and it didn’t work. It’s got to be the end of the road for one of those relationships.
In the end, the President’s State of the Union actually didn’t break much new ground. The battlefield upon which the 2012 presidential election will be fought hasn’t shifted, the Republican message is still in disarray (Romney, Newt and SOTU rebuttalist Mitch Daniels are about as uncoordinated as those Super PACS are supposed to be) and the public is still generally frustrated with the slow pace of recovery. So in the end, the speech sounded good, people got some of what they wanted (but not all), and everyone goes back home about the same as before. If that’s the recipe for re-election then Obama’s speech put him right into contention.