The Era of Big Government Is Back

Lacking credibility, Obama missed an opportunity.

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President Clinton acknowledges the crowd prior to giving his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Jan. 19, 1999. House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois is at right.

This was a Bill Clinton-style State of the Union address: a kitchen sink full of liberal agenda items. True, it didn’t contain a call for school uniforms ... but the president did call for new spending, legislation on climate change, voting rights, gun control, universal prekindergarten, affordable college tuition and a hike in the minimum wage. But unlike President Clinton, President Obama didn’t say the era of big government is over. In fact, it’s back—big time. As with Obama’s inaugural address, this was an unabashedly pro big government speech.

[Check out editorial cartoons about President Obama.]

President Clinton often struggled with being credible, and President Obama certainly was not credible tonight. His statement about healthcare reform reducing the cost of healthcare just doesn’t ring true. He spoke about keeping Congress fully informed about our counterterrorism efforts, but that doesn’t square with the administration’s silence on drones and targeted killings. But the most unbelievable statement of the night: “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” I assume it won’t cost a dime because he’ll raise taxes through the roof to pay for all the new spending. But we don’t know—the White House didn’t transmit a budget to Congress in time for the State of the Union, and isn’t expected to for weeks, and Democrats in the Senate haven’t put forth a budget in four years. There was no mention of his promise to cut the deficit in half.

Here’s what else he didn’t mention: China. There was one sentence on Iran. He said “our war will be over” in Afghanistan on December 31, 2014—but made no mention of victory. He talked more about climate change than he did about terrorism. (Although his mentions of Mitt Romney and John McCain were nice surprises, and he struck less of a partisan tone than I thought he would.)

[See political cartoons about guns rights and gun control.]

The president saved his energy for the peroration of the speech, on gun violence—a passionate appeal on a controversial issue rather than on creating opportunity and jobs, building innovation and economic growth, and bringing the American Dream to all. That would have appealed to a lot more Americans. This was a missed opportunity.

  • Read Robert Schlesinger on State of the Union firsts and other trivia.
  • Get a behind the scenes look at how a State of the Union address is written.
  • Read Boris Epshteyn: A Snoozefest of a State of the Union