Opinion: A Critique of President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Obama State of the Union

President Obama’s State of the Union address was in trouble hardly after it began when he said that “we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.” 

Economically, that’s hardly believable, with a $16.5 trillion national debt and annual budget deficit topping $1 trillion for the fourth consecutive year.

With that umbrella in mind, neither the legitimacy nor effectiveness of Obama’s proposals improved much from that initiatory statement.

  • The president said that both parties worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 million, “mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.” That’s difficult to say, given that spending cuts to tax increases came at a 10:1 rate. 
  • “We can’t ask senior citizens and working families,” he said, “to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful.” Unfortunately, U.S. government transfers to individuals in 1960 totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010, that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727 percent over the past half-century. 
  • “Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs,” he said. That’s difficult since most provisions of the law—including a penalty for not paying for health insurance—doesn’t go into effect until 2014. The Congressional Budget Office has said that health care spending has grown much more slowly in recent years, both for federal programs and overall, than it did in previous years. In response to that slowing growth, the CBO reduced its projections for future Medicare spending. However, the CBO did not specifically credit the Affordable Care Act as the reason for lowering the projections. Some aspects of the law will slightly increase federal outlays in Medicare and Medicaid. 

The unfulfilling assertions amounted to an often-lazy address ideologically from the president—even if his delivery was spirited. That was apparent when he argued about defeating natural disasters if even through executive order, or stating that legislation like the Fairness Payment Act will be a cure-all to the oft-overrated issue of gender pay discrimination. If the suggestions aren’t already a violation of federalism as defined in the 10th amendment, they promise to severely reduce the options of private enterprise to solve the solutions or conduct policies according to their own conscience.

After saying that the U.S. will continue to “keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian,” Obama said his administration would “stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.’ Promises of the sort are hollow given Obama’s incessant apologies overseas last term about American behavior in foreign policy between 9/11 and the start of his presidency.

It was filled with a level of substance found in a sequence in the latter half of the speech, when Obama suddenly diverted from his meticulous briefing of various policies to overview a vague laundry list of issues, including “eradicating poverty in the next two decades,” “connecting more people to the global economy,” “empowering women,” “giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve” and “by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”

Solutions to the generic policies are about as realizable as personally assuring that Iran wouldn’t use a nuclear weapon against the U.S., as Obama promised in his final foreign policy debate against Mitt Romney in late October in Boca Raton, Fla. (That’s independent of whether the executive branch should be seeking to interfere in any of Iran’s operations in the first place.)

The president did get it right near the end of the address.

“It is not a bigger government we need,” Obama said, “but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

It was refreshing. But given several trepidations about some of his other expectations, validity of that evaluation is in question from this Commander-in-Chief.

Rhett Wilkinson is a senior at Utah State University studying journalism/communications and political science. A co-founder of Aggie BluePrint—USU’s first student magazine—he has worked as an intern in Congressional and Gubernatorial offices and as a correspondent for the Deseret News and Standard-Examiner.


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