P resident Barack Obama’s State of the Union message Tuesday predictably sounded like a campaign kickoff. In this election year he used the bully pulpit to advance political strategy, rather than give an even-handed accounting of where he has brought the nation.
We suspect voters preferred a more candid assessment such as, to paraphrase Jimmy Carter, “Are you better off than you were three years ago?” But stumping politicians know better than to ask questions that have embarrassing answers.
As one Republican candidate put it, the administration has a “record of debt, decline and disappointment.” That explains Obama’s focus on lofty promises Tuesday, rather than on his disappointing performance. His record also explains a Rasmussen Reports poll that found 47 percent of likely voters today would support the generic Republican candidate, while 42 percent would vote for Obama.
Obama almost immediately targeted “haves” to benefit “have-nots,” at least as he identified them. “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs,” he told a joint session of Congress and a national TV audience. But how does that jibe with his auto industry bailouts and tax money handed to uneconomical alternative energy companies?
Obama said he wants fairness. Yet, to lure American businesses back to the U.S. he would impose higher taxes on their overseas operations, and use the money to subsidize companies that don’t go overseas. A fair solution would be to reduce taxes for operating in the U.S. to erase the benefit of locating overseas.
The president said he will “open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.” But unless his bureaucrats approve drilling permits, it is merely another empty gesture. He said he will tap natural gas reserves “that can last America nearly 100 years.” But the president refused to allow even the transporting of Canadian oil by pipeline across the U.S. to Texas refineries. Obama’s campaign promises boil down to whether he follows through. His track record isn’t promising.
What is more certain is that the president said, “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.” He would end oil industry tax breaks, despite their cheap, plentiful fuel, and replace them with tax subsidies of unproven, costly “clean energy.” Subsidies are a bad idea. They are worse when they prop up uneconomical industries. Think Solyndra.
The president drew applause, justified in our view, across the aisle when he said that for the first time in nine years Americans are not fighting in Iraq, and Osama bin Laden no longer poses a threat. Both successes were set in motion by the previous administration, which he failed to acknowledge.
The president believes congressional Republicans obstruct his schemes. But it has been 1,000 days since the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a budget. And, as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in the Republican rebuttal Tuesday, Republicans, “have passed bills to reduce borrowing, reform entitlements and encourage new job creation, only to be shot down nearly time and again by the president and his Democratic Senate allies.”
Obama’s fundamental error is that he regards Americans’ earned income as belonging to the government first. He referred to tax cuts that allow people to keep what they earn as government “spending.” It is not the government’s to spend unless the government takes it from those who earn it.
The president’s all-purpose solution is to rely on government rather than on the American people.