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Obama’s State of the Union

2 Comments  •  By:   •  January 31, 2010  •  

A number of the President’s critics have opined that he didn’t say anything new in the State of the Union Address and mainly tried to rally Democrats to support him. To the contrary, I think three important aspects of the address are pretty clear.

The first is what he actually proposed. Politico has an excellent article discussing the President’s proposals from the SOTU and the possibilities that they might happen. Two examples:

Despite the fact that health care reform was the centerpiece of his first-year agenda, it’s on life support at best. He didn’t talk much about it, but he did urge the majority to continue working on health insurance reform, saying “Don’t walk away from reform….” That was taken by some as a criticism of the Senate, which took so long to pass its version of the bill that there was no chance of final passage last year. In any case, given the negative dynamics between the House and Senate, the chance for passage of a version of the present bills is grim.

The President said he was ready to push for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. He was vague about details, but based on past performance, he can be expected to push for Congress to take action rather than making the policy changes that are already within his authority. In any case, the time is ripe for repeal of DADT, and it’s likely to happen in 2010.

The second important thing to note in the SOTU is Obama’s direct criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which went against precedent and ruled that corporations may engage in direct financing to influence elections. Obama takes the position that the ruling permits foreign companies to make unlimited campaign contributions, which is an exaggeration. More significant than the issue itself is the specter of the President challenging the Supreme Court openly in a state of the union address. That was at least as inappropriate as Congressman Joe Wilson calling the President a liar during a speech to a joint session.

Finally, we saw the President backtracking in the face of pressure from electoral losses in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey; overwhelming public disapproval of his health care reform agenda; opposition to the way he’s handling captured terrorists; the looming failure of his energy agenda; and the overall inability of Congress to deliver, despite large majorities in both houses. As I wrote in an earlier article,

[Obama] ducks and weaves his way around obstacles, never confronting challenges head-on, never engaging in direct combat that can wound or kill. He’s the brilliant golden boy, after all, and everything can be forgiven. He’s not the kind of man who could fight his way through the corporate world to become a CEO, and he wouldn’t make it far in the military. But he’s a perfect politician, a force unto himself, who managed to become President of the United States without ever having done much that was hard or dangerous.

Instead of worrying about Obama the ideologue with a socialist agenda to destroy America, as some do, we might do better to worry about Obama the politician who bends and twists in the wind whenever he’s really opposed. We might be better off if he had fixed political ideas and more backbone.

(This article was also published at Opinion Forum.)

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