President Barack Obama’s conciliatory tone in his State of the Union Address was exactly what the country needs at this moment. And once again, Obama showed he is the best political orator since Ronald Reagan.
On tone and feeling – which matter a great deal in politics – the president deserves high marks. So too do members of Congress who for once behaved in a bipartisan manner, not like squabbling children.
Substance? That’s another matter.
In the address there was a lot of talk about jobs and innovation, both obviously important: but issues that no president controls. There was talk of better access to high-speed Internet and of regulatory and tax-loophole reform: not one single person opposes either. There was dream-world talk of high-speed rail and energy in the year 2035. But there were precious few specifics regarding what will be done right now to address runaway federal debt. And runaway federal debt, which suggests the U.S. future may be less bright, is a major issue holding the economy back.
The president proposed a five-year freeze in discretionary federal spending, which he acknowledged is a mere 12 percent of the federal budget. A freeze in 12 percent of future spending – that’s all you got?
The president vaguely mentioned cuts in “community action,” giving no details. Obama endorsed the military budget cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and those cuts are well-advised. But note the wording: “The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.” Gates has the right idea, but no Secretary of Defense can “agree” to “cut” even a dollar from Pentagon spending – Congress controls the military budget. Obama created the impression that cuts have already happened, leaving open the door for Congress to reinstate spending.