It was officially called the State of the Union Address, but what President Obama actually delivered on Tuesday night was a campaign speech targeted directly at his base. The message went something like this: “Unions, environmentalists, teachers, Hispanic immigrants, women, I’m your president…I’m your candidate.”
Consider the code words and messages sprinkled throughout the speech.
The president began with a shameless signal to the Code Pink crowd and anti-war left—the folks who fueled his rise and run for the White House. “For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq,” he declared, sidestepping the unraveling situation that has emerged as a result. And he went on: “We’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer.” Again, never mind what is left behind.
For Big Labor, he boasted about his efforts to get “workers and automakers to settle their differences” and get a government-owned, union-run General Motors “back on top as the world’s number one automaker.”
He gratuitously mentioned a “unionized plant in Milwaukee” and cited key union cities in key states for good measure: “Detroit and Toledo and Chicago…Cleveland and Pittsburgh.”
For the teachers’ unions, he lamented how “tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers” and called on Congress to give states “the resources to keep good teachers on the job.” Drifting into meaningless platitudes, he promised that in exchange he would support programs to “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
While on the subject of meaningless platitudes, the president boasted that “there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office.” The reason for that, of course, is that he’s presiding over the worst economy in four decades. In other words, there are no jobs to entice immigrants to cross America’s southern border—legally or illegally. (See Mitch Daniels’ sparkling rebuttal for more on why.)
But the president’s main message on immigration was for the amnesty lobby: “Hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation,” he chided. “Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people,” who, it pays to recall, are not responsible enough to legalize their status.
The president’s environmental bloc had to wade through some throw-away lines. For example, his boast that the country relies “less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years” has a lot to do with low demand caused by a beleaguered economy. And when he noted that “We don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” he failed to mention that when given the opportunity—in the form of the Keystone XL pipeline—he chose the environmental lobby rather than economic recovery.
When he finally got on message, he got on a roll. “Renewable energy use has nearly doubled,” he declared. “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” he gushed. And putting our money where his mouth is, he unveiled plans to “allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes.” He then announced his decision to dragoon the Department of Defense into the quixotic effort by directing it to “make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history,” thus turning America’s shrinking Armed Forces into the R&D arm of his green agenda.
With lines that sounded strangely anachronistic, he rallied another important bloc of his coalition, declaring that “Women should earn equal pay for equal work.” He then vowed that he would not allow America to “go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to…charge women differently from men.”
That brings us to the crescendo of his State of the Campaign Address: the obligatory class-warfare rhetoric.
In the span of about 40 minutes, the president took credit for the automaker bailout that saved “a million jobs”—but happened to be launched in the waning hours of the Bush presidency—and then lambasted the bank bailouts.
“No bailouts, no handouts and no copouts,” he said in ripping into banks, Wall Street and a financial system that “was allowed to play by its own set of rules.”
He spoke of giving banks “a chance to repay a deficit of trust,” tried to shame Congress into ending the “tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans” and decried “the corrosive influence of money in politics.”
In a speech full of eye-rollers, that last one may take the prize. After all, it was the Obama campaign that raised millions from undisclosed donors in 2008. As Newsweek reported at the time, tens of thousands of dollars poured into the Obama campaign from “individuals” with names like “Doodad Pro” of Nunda, New York, and “Good Will” of Austin, Texas. “Good Will,” Newsweek observed, “listed his employer as ‘Loving’ and his occupation as ‘You,’ while supplying as his address 1015 Norwood Park Boulevard, which is shared by the Austin nonprofit Goodwill Industries.” Moreover, it is the Obama campaign that’s now boasting about raising $1 billion dollars for 2012.
By this time next year, we’ll know if the president’s promises have held his coalition together.
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