Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reviewing the State of the Disunion Speech

As I mentioned yesterday, we had a pleasant alternative to watching the State of the Union speech last night. We invited Keith, Carol, Karla, Allen and Cindy over (others couldn't make it) to have Yellow Submarine sandwiches, veggies and cookies while enjoying the 1964 Beatles film, "A Hard Day's Night." Terrific flick. Terrific friends.

And it was a lot more fun than enduring what I feared would be a messy, misleading, more-of-the-same performance from our president and his teleprompters.

I was right.

Even the New York Times this morning, though desperately trying to put the best face possible on Barack Obama's effort was forced to admit that he had learned nothing from his negative poll numbers or the Republican victory in Massachusetts.

It was a confident performance, more defiant than contrite, more conversational than soaring. He appealed to and scolded both parties, threatened vetoes, blamed his predecessor and poked fun at lawmakers. The agenda was largely the same, dressed up in fresh packaging, as he offered point-by-point rebuttals to the litany of critiques he hears with increasing frequency. He acknowledged only a failure to explain his policies without retreating an inch on the policies themselves. His main message: “I don’t quit.”

That is a positive spin from the liberal Times of a myopic, arrogant president that remains committed to shoving his broad socialist agenda on the American people.

Below are several more reviews of Obama's speech.

Jonah Goldberg:

There's a story of an ex hausted tenor at La Scala who, facing repeated cries of "Encore," responded that he couldn't go on. A man rose in the audience to say, "You'll keep singing until you get it right."

That seems to be the defining principle of the Obama administration -- whose response to every problem, every setback, every hiccup and challenge has been, simply, "more Obama."

Indeed, for people who aren't sticklers for political jargon, it will be a shock that last night was Obama's first State of the Union Address, since it was his third formal address to a joint session of Congress. Yet for all of the political déjà vu, what was most surprising last night was the degree to which Obama delivered even more of the same.

Washington graybeards and pundits have been insisting that Obama needs to "start over," "reboot" and "tack to the middle" after Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts. But Obama's response last night was to recommit himself to the agenda that has gotten him in so much trouble...

Other politicians are vain, cowardly and insubstantial. They need the courage to change. Meanwhile, Obama is great the way he is.

That is the attitude that has gotten the president in so much trouble. And last night's State of the Union speech showed us that change really isn't easy, particularly for the president.

Law professor Bradley A. Smith (commenting on the President's unprecedented attack in his speech on the Supreme Court):

Tonight the president engaged in demagoguery of the worst kind, when he claimed that last week's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, "open[ed] the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities."

The president's statement is false.

The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making "a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election" under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any "expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication."

This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demagoguery of the worst kind.

Nile Gardiner:

But the scant attention paid in the State of the Union speech to US leadership was pitiful and frankly rather pathetic. The war in Afghanistan, which will soon involve a hundred thousand American troops, merited barely a paragraph. There was no mention of victory over the enemy, just a reiteration of the president’s pledge to begin a withdrawal in July 2011. Needless to say there was nothing in the speech about the importance of international alliances, and no recognition whatsoever of the sacrifices made by Great Britain and other NATO allies alongside the United States on the battlefields of Afghanistan. For Barack Obama the Special Relationship means nothing, and tonight’s address further confirmed this.

Significantly, the global war against al-Qaeda was hardly mentioned, and there were no measures outlined to enhance US security at a time of mounting threats from Islamist terrorists. Terrorism is a top issue for American voters, but President Obama displayed what can only be described as a stunning indifference towards the defence of the homeland...

Obama’s world leadership in his first year in office has been weak-kneed and little short of disastrous. He has sacrificed the projection of American power upon the altar of political vanity, with empty speeches and groveling apologies across the world, from Strasbourg to Cairo. He has appeased some of America’s worst enemies, and has extended the hand of friendship to many of the most odious regimes on the face of the earth. Judging by the State of the Union address tonight, we can expect more of the same from an American president who seems determined to lead the world’s greatest power along a path of decline.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (in the audience when blasted by the President's criticism of last week's campaign finance decision):

Not true.

Fred Barnes:

Haven’t we heard that speech before, practically every word of it? Maybe it was a year ago when President Obama first addressed Congress. Maybe it was during the campaign. Maybe it was at one of those town halls? Maybe Obama can’t help himself. His speeches just insist on sounding the same.

In any case, Obama delivered the least fresh State of the Union address I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard more than 30 of them. It was filled with old ideas, campaign cliches, and frequent use of personal pronoun, “I.” That’s the Obama pattern.

The chief takeaway from 70 minutes of presidential oratory was that Obama doesn’t intend to move to the center. Should we have been surprised? Not at all. Obama is no Bill Clinton. He’s an ideologically committed liberal.

National Review editorial:

Everything changes except President Obama. His agenda doesn’t change. He has had no second thoughts about the wisdom of his health-care policies, or any of his policies; resistance is always and only a reason for redoubling. Also unchanging is the condescension with which he articulates his agenda: He faulted himself for not explaining health care well enough to the easily confused American public. The same familiar strawmen dot the landscape of his rhetoric. (Republicans want to “maintain the status quo” on health care. This president is willing to listen to Republican ideas, just so long as he can then forget that he has ever done so.) Narcissism, too, is a constant companion. The opening of the speech, and the end, invited us to regard Obama as the embodiment of the nation. But it is not the country’s future that has suddenly come under doubt. It is his administration’s. It is not the country’s spirit that is in danger of breaking. It is contemporary liberalism’s...

Anyone could find something to agree with in an endless speech, and we will dutifully applaud the president’s professed desire for new nuclear plants. All in all, though, our impression was of an administration that has no real understanding of the political straits in which it finds itself and thus no way to escape them.

Toby Harnden:

A few thoughts after a very long and I though flatly delivered speech by President Barack Obama:

1. He’s not going to pivot towards the centre a la Bill Clinton 1995 – yet.

2. Obama realises many people find him too cool and detached so he laid on the “I feel your pain” stuff with a trowel. But this sat uneasily with the passages in which he tried to be optimistic. It was a difficult thing to pull off and I don’t think he succeeded.

3. The speech was uninspiring. Perhaps deliberately slow. Soaring rhetoric would not have worked. Perhaps the greatest talent Obama has – speechifying – is now not much use to him.

4. He paid lip service to getting health care through Congress but he knows it’s dead.

5. A consistent theme from now until November will be that Republicans are rejectionists and it’s all their fault that Obama’s agenda has been frustrated. But ultimately the Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress so they’ll be blamed for inaction.

6. Obama has stopped blaming Bush all the time by name. But he did it several times in thinly-veiled references.

7. It’s remarkable how much of a back seat nationals security issues are taking given that the US is engaged in two wars.

8. Obama berating Republicans for being oh-so political simply won’t wash. The President is giving all his speeches in swing states and has given his 2008 campaign manager an enhanced role.

9. It was pretty classless to berate the Supreme Court while Democrats all around them leapt to their feet cheering and guffawing. Obama will suffer for this more than Justice Samuel Alito will for mouthing the words: “Not true.”

10. This speech won’t change the current political dynamic – Obama has much, much more to do.

Wall Street Journal editorial:

So much for all of that Washington talk about a midcourse change of political direction. If President Obama took any lesson from his party's recent drubbing in Massachusetts, and its decline in the polls, it seems to be that he should keep doing what he's been doing, only with a little more humility, and a touch more bipartisanship.

That's our reading of last night's lengthy State of the Union address, which mostly repackaged the President's first-year agenda in more modest political wrapping...

On health care, Mr. Obama offered a Willy Loman-esque soliloquy on his year-long effort, as if his bill's underlying virtues and his own hard work haven't been truly appreciated by the American public. He showed no particular willingness to compromise, save for a claim that he was open to other ideas.

And he re-pitched the health bill now in Congress with the same contradiction—covers more people but saves money too—that all but the most devoted partisans long ago dismissed as unbelievable. The President sounded to us like a man who is still hoping Democrats will find a way to sneak this monstrosity into law despite its unpopularity...

Many of the President's opponents will welcome this failure to change because they sense partisan opportunity. But our guess is most Americans will be disappointed because they sense a Presidency that began with such promise but now finds itself at a crossroads and doesn't really know what to do—except to stay on the same road that got it into trouble. This could be a long year.

Philip Klein:

Last night, CNN did a focus group during the State of the Union Address, and it provided further evidence of the skepticism toward President Obama among independents. As always with focus groups, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But a few things worth noting in the video below. First, whenever Obama mentioned "hope," independents reacted negatively, and during the health care portion of the speech, while the reaction meter for Democrats turned up, the reaction among independents dropped like a rock.

Peter Robinson:

As an old speechwriter, Mark, I entirely agree: Obama is bad and getting worse.

Political rhetoric is intended to be effective — to get stuff done. What did Obama need to do tonight? Reassure his liberal base that he remained with them in substance while striking the right rhetorial and stylistic tone to reassure independents that he was still the same cool, composed, and in-control figure they found so appealing during the campaign. What did he actually do? Precisely the reverse. While offering up such stale, unimaginative policy proposals that liberals could only have moaned and gnashed their teeth, Obama adopted a tone of such petulance, peevishness, and condescension that independents could only have recoiled.

Not a single memorable phrase. Not a single image of real freshness or beauty. Just a ponderous, self-indulgent, long-winded botch...

The tone.

Defensive, hectoring, self-righteous, self-referential, and angry. An astonishing performance.

Marc Thiessen:

Listening to President Obama's speech, I could not help wondering how different this night would have been had Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's bomb not malfunctioned. Four weeks ago our country was the target of a catastrophic terrorist attack. But for the grace of God, Northwest Flight 253 would have crashed into downtown Detroit, killing thousands. Yet just a month later, it is an afterthought for this president. His only mention of the failed attack was a passing reference that he was responding with "better airline security."

Worse, the president's brief discussion of terrorism focused not on what he was doing to defend the country but was, rather, a vigorous defense of himself. His first words on the subject were a chastisement of those who would dare criticize his handling of terrorism, declaring that "all of us love this country" and warning his Republican critics to "put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough." It's all about him. No acknowledgement of how close we came to disaster or praise for the brave passengers who subdued the terrorist. No, only this message for his critics: If you question the wisdom of telling a captured terrorist "you have the right to remain silent," you are really questioning the president's patriotism and engaging in childish taunts.

The fact is, the American people have real concerns about Obama's approach to terrorism. They do question the wisdom of eliminating CIA interrogations, closing Guantanamo Bay, bringing the terrorists held there to this country, putting Khalid Shiekh Mohammed and his cohorts on trial in civilian courts, and giving captured terrorists Miranda rights after 50 minutes of questioning. Instead of acknowledging these concerns, Obama dismissed them. It was strange, defensive, arrogant -- and un-presidential.

Cliff May:

National security was not a big subject for Obama tonight. Nevertheless:

North Korea — The sanctions imposed have been serious and effective? That’s just not true.

Iran — The jihadist regime has been isolated? Hardly. There will be consequences if Tehran continues to pursue nuclear weapons? Let’s hope so, but there is bipartisan support in Congress for a serious, “crippling” sanctions bill. We have not yet heard Obama endorse it. Nor has he done anything to assist Iran’s Green Movement.

Iraq — He’s still not connecting the dots. Iraq’s enemies and our enemies in Iraq are al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iran’s proxies there. The war in Iraq is not over. Iraqis will continue to fight on that front.

Nuclear weapons — Ours are not the problem.

Free trade with Colombia — He can make that happen if he’s serious. We’ll see if he is.

Also NB: Nothing on Gitmo; nothing on the Underpants Bomber; nothing on NYC trial of KSM; nothing on Fort Hood (as KLo noted).

Kevin Hassett:

There was much speculation that Obama would change the topic, and reach toward the middle, but the specific proposals mentioned in his speech were mostly cut and pasted out of the same laundry list that was revealed in last year’s budget. It may be news to someone that he is going to wait for things to cool off before pursuing health care, but probably not. More importantly, the things that he has pushed ahead of the health-care agenda, like ending deferral of multinational’s U.S. tax liabilities, have been around longer than Obama has. He had a chance to introduce at least one good new idea, and dropped the ball faster than a Minnesota Vikings running-back. I doubt that Democrats view no news as good news, and they must be feeling disappointed tonight.

Watching him list one costly agenda item after another, I couldn’t help feeling that we need a constitutional amendment that requires politicians to start promises with the words “I want to take your money and.” It might be that such a rule would constrain them, since I can’t imagine anyone having the courage to say, “I want to take your money and use it to pay off the college loan for that rich kid down the block,” and “I want to take your money and use it to help your plumber buy a new wrench.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez:

Where was Fort Hood? Did I miss it?...

Was shrill and defensive and unrepentantly liberal inasmuch as he pushed harder on health care and jobs and the rest.

Mark R. Levin:

I have watched many, many State of the Union speeches. This is the most partisan, least presidential of them all. His rhetoric, his glances at the GOP side, and his almost mocking tone at times — not to mention his over-the-top dissembling about the deficit, among other things — will not, I predict, improve his position with the public. Nor should it.

John Hood:

One Way to Put It -- Is simply this: The president looks like a jerk tonight.