Opinion: The Actual State of Our Union – by Yosef Stein

ysPresident Obama’s final State of the Union address, delivered Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress, was mostly predictable. It was for the most part exactly what you’d expect to hear from an entrenched partisan president with an arrogant streak and a penchant for manipulating data to serve his own radical interests. Obama started out with a claim that his speech would “focus on the next five years, the next ten years and beyond.” It was a promise he failed to keep; much of the president’s speech was dedicated to his ego trip of a victory lap, bragging about his accomplishments and the fantastic state of the world, as perceived by his deluded mind.

At the outset, Obama outlined the four topics he would cover in his speech. The first question he raised was pretty straightforward: “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity?” He began his discussion of the subject with a searing rebuke for politicians on both sides of the aisle (e.g. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders) who espouse pessimistic narratives about the state of our economy. “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” he proclaimed, touting healthy job growth and the low unemployment rate. While there are certainly data points indicating that our economy is indeed doing well, the president totally ignored the numerous statistics pointing the other way, such as the stock market’s decline and wages that have been stagnant for years now. President Obama went on to criticize companies for making “their own rules,” without specifying what he was referring to or whose rules he thinks businesses should be forced to play by. One utterly bizarre statement the president made was his assertion that “immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up. Those decisions are made in the boardrooms.” So apparently decisions made in companies’ boardrooms are not subject to the influence of outside factors such as illegal immigrants flooding the jobs market and keeping some blue-collar wages down. As I said, bizarre.

The next theme of the address was the spirit of innovation. Aside from a couple of unnecessary digs at the coal industry- likely hardening perceptions of a Democratic Party “War on Coal”- there was little to object to in Obama’s embrace of wind and solar power. The president also unveiled a new initiative to cure cancer, to be spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau to the deadly disease last year.

Up to this point, Obama’s final State of the Union address was, in the always-subtle words of Donald Trump, “boring, slow, lethargic.” But when the commander-in-chief embarked on the foreign policy leg of his speech, his remarks started to get more interesting- and more controversial. “I told you all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air,” he began, once again exaggerating the rosiness of the country’s more complicated fiscal reality. “Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.” While he did list a series of indicators which in his view demonstrated that America is still the most powerful nation in the world, Obama failed to provide any evidence that our republic isn’t growing weaker. Nor did he counter the well-known fact that Moscow and Beijing have been emboldened by a lack of American leadership abroad.

After breezily dismissing Russia as desperate and struggling (a characterization very much at odds with the situations on the ground in Syria and Ukraine), President Obama painted ISIL with the same brush of overconfident optimism. Islamic State terrorists are just “masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks” and “twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages,” according to Obama. He made it sound as though defeating ISIS is easy and that the terror network has already been crushed financially and militarily. Neither claim seems to be true. Islamic State terrorists still control massive swaths of land and are still raking it in thanks to their ample oil supply. They are still scoring military victories against the various forces seeking to depose them. Contrary to Obama’s claim Tuesday night, no one is “steadily reclaiming territory” held by ISIL.

The president also evoked memories of the second debate between the Democratic candidates for president this cycle when he said of Islamic State, “We just need to call them what they are- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” Besides for being another attempt to downplay the significance and difficulty of defeating the terror group, this statement was also the president’s way of expressing that the militants’ religious motivation isn’t important to him. On November 14, in Des Moines, Iowa, all of the Democratic candidates for president infamously- and awkwardly- declined to utter the words “radical Islam,” refusing to acknowledge the mere existence of the greatest foreign- and possibly domestic- security threat we face today. Obama also avoided those two words Tuesday, maintaining that it’s only important to know that members of ISIS are “killers and fanatics.” While it’s true that most Muslims are not terrorists (and it would therefore be unfair and inaccurate to call ISIL “representative” of Islam as a whole, as Obama correctly pointed out), refusing to acknowledge that Islamic State is a Muslim terror group is absurd, not to mention dangerous. In order for any enemy to be most effectively combatted and defeated, it first must be identified and its motives understood.

Of course, President Obama might disagree with that last point. After all, he seems to think everything is totally under control in Iraq and Syria. Listening to him talk about ISIL Tuesday night, the uninitiated probably came out of the speech believing that the terror network, which according to some estimates is in possession of land the size of Belgium, has already been not just contained, but essentially defeated. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only area of foreign policy where the president’s over-optimism bordered on denial. When discussing the progress his administration supposedly made vis-á-vis Iran, he left out any mention of the ten U.S. sailors who at the time were being held in Iranian custody due to an innocent mistake they had made. The president proudly asserted that thanks to his Iran nuclear deal, “the world has avoided another war.” With many experts positing that the Iran Deal actually increases the likelihood of nuclear war down the line, it takes a special type of chutzpah, as well as total lack of awareness, to make a claim like the one Obama made.

The president then defined American leadership as the “wise application of military power,” prompting questions about the wisdom of his own military approach. I wouldn’t exactly call it “wise” to intervene in the civil war in Libya, which posed no direct threat to American security, while ignoring the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. If anything, Obama’s own application of military power has been haphazard and arbitrary. Notably, the president ended the foreign policy segment of his address without a single mention of North Korea’s recent hydrogen bomb test, the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, or the very stalled Israel-Palestinian peace process.

It was the fourth and final part of the president’s address, however, that really got under my skin. As President Obama put it, the end of his speech focused on how we can “make our politics reflect what’s best in us and not what’s worst.” Before I knew it, 2016 had turned into 2004 and Barack Obama had transformed from a cynical, partisan president into a youthful, optimistic and bipartisan state legislator. In 2004, as a young state senator from Illinois, Obama delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. It was an uplifting speech about American exceptionalism and the spirit of bipartisanship. “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America,” he declared. “There is the United States of America.”

The themes of the 2004 speech, which first vaulted Obama into the national spotlight, would later become the cornerstone of his bid for the White House. On March 18, 2008, Senator Obama told a crowd in Philadelphia that “we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together” and that “this nation is more than the sum of its parts.” In his victory speech that November, the president-elect proclaimed that America had “sent a message to the rest of the world that we have never just been a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.” He promised, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” And he called upon Americans to “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

That was the Barack Obama who America voted for- unifying, inspiring, pragmatic. And after a seven-year hiatus, that Barack Obama was back Tuesday night under the Capitol rotunda. “The future we want… is within our reach,” he said. “But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.” Just one problem: In the seven years that Obama’s been president, he has done nothing to bring Americans together. In fact, he’s done the opposite. Obama might claim to be a fan of constructive debate now that he’s trying to squeeze his liberal agenda through a conservative Congress. But from 2009 to 2011, when the Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress, the new president didn’t show the slightest inclination to compromise. He and Democratic leaders simply rammed their agenda through Congress over the objections of the minority party.

Was there a “rational, constructive debate” about Obamacare? It was written by Democrats, compromised on nothing, and received zero Republican votes. Ditto for the Dodd-Frank regulatory bill. Meanwhile, initiatives on which there was potential for bipartisanship, such as reforming the entitlement, criminal justice, immigration and tax systems, went ignored by Democrats. There was no commitment to national unity or bipartisanship. In a rare moment of honesty, Obama acknowledged in his State of the Union, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide…”

It’s nice that Obama regrets the extreme hyper-partisanship that has marked his two terms in office, but what did he expect? After pushing their agenda through Congress for two years, Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms. Instead of working with Republicans like he promised, Obama spent much of the next five years legislating by executive action. President Obama, more than anyone else in Washington, is the reason why “the rancor and suspicion” is so bad. Does he expect Republicans to like him after he spent the last seven years steamrolling them and their ideas, first through Congress and later via abuse of executive power?

President Obama has no right to show up after seven years as the most partisan and radical president in recent memory and pretend that he ever tried to be a unifier. It doesn’t take a Lincoln or a Roosevelt to de-escalate tensions and bring people together. But it does take effort. Obama could have promoted bipartisanship by talking with Republicans instead of ignoring them and by compromising instead of dictating. He has no right to “regret” that he didn’t fix the problem when he in fact violated Rule Numero Uno: First, do no harm.

As is common, President Obama concluded his address with the words, “The state of our union is strong.” But if the word “union” has any relation to unity (spoiler: it does), then the state of our union has in fact hardly ever been weaker. And we have Barack Obama to thank for that.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, I can’t wait until he’s gone! Let’s just hope the replacement is better, we have some scary candidates up there right now. Will Hillary or Trump be any better?
    Note to Scoop- some lines from the article seem to be missing.

  2. The author is, of course, entitled to his opinion. Nevrtheless, he shouldn’t make factual assertions and then presume his assertions are correct simply because they are “well known.” Failing to support your argument with actual, specific and certifiable facts is after all, exactly what he admonishes President Obama of doing. People in glass houses…

  3. It’s unbelievable how the candidate who ran on that famous campaign slogan “CHANGE” indicative of progress and bipartisanship has managed to send us backwards in so many directions. The only change was to cause an even deeper rift between our parties and weaken American standing in the world. I wish he would have spoken of CHANGE again during his address- we are all waiting for a change from him.

  4. You make some good points but the bottom line is that most politicians are partisan egomaniacs. Obama’s subjectiveness is to be expected, it’s really no shocker. Who would be less egotistical? Our Republican frontrunner?! Please- he would make Obama look like the paragon of humility. The best we can hope for is a President who doesn’t have Congress in his pocket so he would have some forced humbleness even if it wasn’t even skin deep.

  5. For the most part the Obama presidency hasn’t surprised me. I thought he’d be a terrible president, and I think he has been a terrible president. I can’t think of a president that had a worse record when it came to foreign policy. He has allowed Putin to run amok, ISIS to become a world threat including here in the USA, Iran to test their ballistic missiles while he had all sanctions removed, Iran to continue to get closer to having their own nukes, North Korea to test their hydrogen bomb, China to take more control of what should be open sea, China to manipulate and rig trade in their favor by their artificial devaluing their own currency, open borders with Mexico allowing in millions of illegal aliens many of which are criminals and drug traffickers, a civil war in Syria with no end in sight, Iraq and Libya to be controlled and governed by radicals… He has alienated allies such as Israel, Jordan, South Korea to name a few.
    His domestic policies haven’t been as disastrous though they’ve been pretty bad. Obama care hasn’t helped people save on their healthcare. On average, Americans healthcare costs have risen a few thousands dollars during Obamas tenure. The deficit has tripled to about 20 trillion dollars and appears to be out of control. We have had the slowest economic recovery of any in modern times. We have the lowest per centage of our people working since the depression 85 years ago. Average income of those working hasn’t risen. The one area which I thought Obama would really help has gotten significantly worse. I thought he’d help racial relationships and during his presidency it has gotten much worse. The relationships between minorities and local police departments is much worse than it was before Obama was elected. As this article noted the relationships between republicans and democrats has also deterioted. The rich have gotten richer and the
    Middle and lower classes have gotten poorer. He has kept inflation and oil prices down. His critics say it’s because he’s manipulated the interest rates. Overall In my opinion Obama has been the worst president we’ve ever had. Even his backers will not be able to support him if Iran within the next century Iran abuses its nuclear possibilities. Ultimately, he will be judged most by the Iran deal.

  6. To all the Trump bashers, he is the only one that is actually saying something. He may be blunt but is that really bad? If you listen to Clinton all she says is political speak, “roll up your sleeves” “work together” we can do it. Do what? What is it we are going to work on? Has she laid out an actual plan or just dance around? Making speeches with vague words so as to not commit to anything or offend anyone.

  7. Great points, across the board!

    The only part I disagree with is the idea that Obama never really intended and acted to be a “unifier”. In the liberal conceit of which he is an avid adherent, unity is predicated on showing the great mass of bigoted, uninformed citizens – clinging to their guns and religion – the error of their unenlightened ways and educating them as to the transcendental truth of the “progressive” path. Unlike a Bill – or even a Hillary – Clinton, Obama truly lacks even the ability and perception to seek common ground with his political opponents.

  8. Are we really at the end of the Obama regime? I just read recently that Barak said that Michelle has no intention of running for President. Just the fact that it was even considered makes me nervous…

  9. Hey Lkwdlib who are you referring to Obama? You must be kidding, or using the drug portion of your great Obama care medical plan. He has put not only our children but our grandchildren into debt.

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