Obama Makes Final State of The Union Address Before Election: Visionary or Hypocrite?

Tonight was President Obama’s final State of the Union address before the November elections, and he spoke with much of the oratory skill for which he is lauded. He made a fairly decent effort to avoid outright attacks which was the proper move to avoid looking petty and maintain the brand he built in 2008. He mentioned specific programs, goals, and statistics. He said the state of the union is “getting stronger,” and he shared a vision of a prosperous America. Below is a recap of some key points and some commentary, but I ask you to make the call. Did President Obama sound like a visionary or a hypocrite in his big speech?

President Obama started the speech by highlighting that we don’t have troops in Iraq for the first time in nine years. He was eager to mention the assassination of Bin Laden saying, “For the first time in two decades Osama Bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” For that, he received a standing ovation, as it’s one of the few issues that just about everyone is in agreement on. In what I thought was the strongest portion of the speech, Obama praised our servicemen in uniform, really getting everyone on his side early.

Referencing those heroes serving our country, he asked listeners to “imagine what we could accomplish if we follow their example.” He proceeded to share a vision of a beautiful flourishing America. He mentioned high-tech manufacturing jobs and energy independence.”We can do this. I know we can because we’ve done it before.” I found it particularly interesting that he paid so much attention to the manufacturing sector. This compares interestingly with Rick Santorum who has also focused on manufacturing and explained that the regulations and taxes on US manufacturers create 20% greater costs (excluding labor costs) as compared to our top trade partners. Santorum has proposed cutting their corporate tax rate to 0% and repealing Obama’s regulations.

Similar to Mitt Romney‘s line about this election being about the “soul of America” Obama said “we have to reclaim them [American values].” Then dissimilar to what Romney and many would say is consistent with American values, he began to start his attacks on the most wealthy Americans. He described how the wealthy got richer and the poor were struggling and then the “house of cards” collapsed in 2008. He assured that his new rules will hold Wall Street accountable so a crisis like this never happens again.

He really got his fellow Democrats fired up when he said he’d strongly fight against those who’d like to move us back to the policies that got us into this mess, a subtle shot at the previous administration. One of the biggest triumphs of his economic theory was GM’s positive response to government intervention. Obama exclaimed, “GM is back on top as the world’s number one auto-maker…What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.” It’s the second sentence that rings especially loudly, and I’ll reference it again shortly.

The President then mentioned that his administration has brought up twice as many trade cases against China as compared to the Bush administration. He announced plans to create a new governmental body to investigate and check for unfair trade practices, primarily in dealing with China. While he was on the topic of China he mentioned that we have to protect our intellectual property rights, an obvious reference to the SOPA debate and likely a plea to his friends in Hollywood, telling them I’m still looking out for you.

Something I found a little hypocritical was his call to “turn our unemployment system into a re-employment system.” He has pushed extension after extension of unemployment benefits so now one can receive those benefits for nearly two years (99 weeks). Unemployment benefits have been statistically proven to dramatically increase the time it takes for one to re-enter the workforce, so I felt his rhetoric was intellectually dishonest. He also mentioned skill training which conservatives love to hear and heard from Newt Gingrich  in a recent debate.

In what I thought was the boldest part of the speech, President Obama called for every state to pass a law requiring everyone to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

Obama then turned his attention to immigration. He argued that his administration has put more (federal) troops on the ground to defend the border, and that’s why there are less illegal border crossing. The slow economy, especially in the construction industry likely played a greater role in any reduction than any direct government action. (On a sidebar, how could they figure how many undetected illegal border crossing there are? Wouldn’t they have to see them to count them?) Of course, his Department of Justice also sued Arizona, Alabama, and South Carolina for enforcing immigration laws on a state level. 

The President is ready to open more than 75% of offshore gas resources. American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years–both are good news. He wants to create 600,000 jobs around our natural gas resources. Further, he said “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” even saying some subsidies will fail obviously referencing Solyndra. He continued to talk about exploring our energy options and more spoke about jobs created via infrastructure projects without direct mention of the Keystone XL Pipeline. He later called for an extension on the payroll tax cut with nothing attached, a reference to the pipeline. After stopping construction on an infrastructure project that would have create 20,000 direct jobs these promises don’t seem that genuine. I thought this was one of the weaker parts of the speech as he was defensive about Solyndra and doesn’t appear genuine about energy and infrastructure to anyone who supported the Keystone XL Pipeline.

He moved his attention to regulations and the economy, saying “no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs…we won’t bail you out again.” Republicans loved this line in Frank Luntz’s dial testing. What I thought was interesting though was that earlier he said what was happening in Detroit because of the auto bailout could happen in other cities. I don’t understand how the two can be reconciled. No bailouts, but we can do more bailouts and revive a city like we did in Detroit? I may have missed something, I admittedly made some nachos at one point during the speech.

He then unveiled what we were all waiting for, the Buffett Rule. He argued that those who make more than a million dollars a year shouldn’t pay under 30%. This specifically targets investors that pay capital gains taxes and subtly references Mitt Romney’s tax release. This is a divisive issue that Republicans and Democrats strongly disagree on. In what was the most partisan moment of the speech Obama pitted those making under $200,000 against the very wealthy essentially saying we can cut your taxes if we tax them more. Conservatives are willing to sacrifice fairness for everyone’s overall well-being while many liberals are willing to sacrifice everyone’s well-being for the sake of fairness. Definitely click here to view an extremely interesting video of Obama debating Hillary Clinton on this topic.

Finally, President Obama assured the American people that we are not prepared to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. This was a great moment and while some may be skeptical, it was good to hear nonetheless. He finished off by promising his “iron clad commitment to Israel’s safety,” despite just recently calling them to give away land and return to 1967 borders.

Overall the speech was well articulated, but I thought some points were inconsistent with his actions and thus misleading. What did you think? Please share your thoughts and as always with the political posts, please keep the comments respectful.

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2 thoughts on “Obama Makes Final State of The Union Address Before Election: Visionary or Hypocrite?

  1. As always, Ryan, you’ve delivered an excellent summary and fair critique of the president’s address. I, for one, also noticed the democratic applause vs. quiet republican response to his statement to “fight against those who’d like to move us back to the policies that got us into this mess.” Rather than “a subtle shot at the previous administration,” I see this is a not-so-subtle shot at the “trickle down” economic policies that have been adopted by the republican party since the Reagan administration in 1980. Even Reagan needed to admit that these top-down tax policies did not work when he raised taxes, along with George H.W. in his infamous “read my lips” back-track. After 30 years of failure, it’s time to “think different” with new tax policies that will work in our evolving world economy.

  2. That’s fair, I think it was both a shot at Bush (blaming him for the economy’s struggles…still) and for the conservative principle of low taxation for all which eventually leads to more growth and thus more opportunity for the poor.

    I thought he was particularly weak on energy and infrastructure. He spoke beautifully, but how can you talk about building the next Hoover Dam and creating 600,000 jobs in energy while the Republicans are trying to strong arm you into a pipeline project that would create jobs and lower energy costs.

    That said, it was less divisive than expected so I applaud him for that.

    Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing. I appreciate it!

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