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Such cognitive dissonance pervaded the president’s address. For instance, he claimed that “my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States,” this even as his administration ended Washington D.C.’s highly successful school voucher program. Elsewhere he touted the promise of “American-made energy” and “American oil production,” without bothering to explain why his administration just last week blocked the Keystone oil pipeline from proceeding. Most jarring to the ear was Obama’s defiant exclamation of “No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.” It was catchy line, save for the fact that it was spoken by the president who extended the bailouts for banks and auto manufacturers, who signed into law a $787 billion stimulus package, and whose budgets have repeatedly included increases in welfare spending – including a 2011 budget request that would have increased welfare spending by 42 percent since 2008. It’s no wonder that Newt Gingrich has gotten applause lines by dubbing Obama the “Food Stamp President.” Based on Obama’s record, it’s true.
Partly due to the substantive shortcomings of the president’s remarks and partly due to the weakness of the current field of Republican presidential hopefuls, the most compelling part of the president’s address came just after it, when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican response. Striking a contrast with Obama’s class warfare themes, Daniels laid out a vision of real renewal, one where society was divided not into “haves and have nots” but into “haves and soon-to-haves.” To that end, Daniels endorsed the entrepreneurial spirit to achieve what government policies have not, while also calling for meaningful entitlement reform to restore the country’s financial footing. It may have been President Obama who declared that “America is back.” But it was Gov. Daniels who offered a credible vision to make that something more than another empty promise.
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