By Teresa Welsh |
President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address was sprinkled with fortifying words for Democrats ("Teachers matter"), needling barbs for Republicans ("No drama"), and post-partisan promises for independents ("consensus around common sense ideas"). But the speech failed to deliver a clear message or set a discernible agenda because of its noticeable contradictions.
More tempered than his speech last month in Osawatomie, Kan., the president continued to press on the theme of "fairness," harkening back to both President Harry Truman's "Fair Deal" and President Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal." Obama encouragingly proclaimed that under his watch, we would "return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility" and "apply the same rules from top to bottom: no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs."
Yet he touted the success of the federal government's "bailout" of General Motors; proposed a new mortgage refinance plan to "bailout" underwater homeowners; and urged Congress to "bailout" students facing interest rate increases on their education loans next summer.
Obama also called for "doubling the number of work study jobs," extending "the tuition tax credit," and spurring "energy innovation" by giving "businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings." He further advocated not only a "tax cut" for "American manufacturer[s]," including a doubling of the break for "high-tech manufacturer[s]" who make their "products here," but also a program to help these businesses with "financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers." As genuinely worthwhile as many of these proposals may be, it is tough not to characterize them as "handouts."
Beyond this, the president took no responsibility for the heated "temperature in this town," or the "inefficient, outdated, and remote" character of the executive branch. Operating in campaign mode, using somewhat veiled language, Obama laid blame on the past administration and the Wall Street banks for the weak economy, and congressional procedure, corrupt practices, and partisan gamesmanship for "what's broken" in Washington. Isn't this a "cop-out?"
Despite what may be described as Obama's honest intentions to ensure that "everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules," his speech offered up several partisan proposals that can easily be decried by Republicans as evidence of his "crony capitalist" or, worse, "socialist" inclinations toward governing. The president's State of the Union address weakened, rather than bolstered, his campaign's platform built on "fairness."
About Lara Brown Professor at Villanova University