A presidential address before a joint session of Congress is a very big deal — the political equivalent of opening night at the Met and the final game of the World Series, all rolled into one. Thursday night lacked both the drama of the former and the excitement of the latter. It quickly reached the heights of mediocrity, and then fell as sharply as the president’s own approval ratings.
Preceded by months of teasers and fanfare, the people of the United States anticipated something of real magnitude and vision. Finally we would hear a program to restore jobs, heal the economy and cut deficit spending in half, as Obama promised while campaigning. This, after all, is the smartest president our country has seen in the last 100 years, right?
However, when his time at bat came, President Obama drew near the rostrum, assumed his best stance, and as the ball approached, he brought back his bat and … bunted. And he missed. But I’ll admit, he did so with panache.
When placed alongside, for example, Mitt Romney’s 59-point job growth plan, the president’s plan, much like the president himself, lacked substance. It was just another campaign speech full of hope, which the nation no longer believes in; change, which we no longer trust; and “share the wealth,” which we all know are code words for “share the poverty.” Stripped to its essentials, it was another Keynesian call to spend money we don’t have, borrowed from nations that are loathe to lend to us, to finance programs that have never worked.
The president suggests a public-works program reminiscent of the 2009 stimulus’ nonexistent “shovel-ready jobs” that he found so amusing a few months back. He wants to extend the employee payroll tax holiday, which may save a few jobs, but won’t create any. He also wants to extend unemployment benefits, which will merely extend unemployment. His proposed American Jobs Act would give employers a tax credit for hiring the unemployed, especially veterans. Given the fact that times are uncertain and that the credit would be temporary, I can’t see it having much effect on hiring.
The total projected cost is close to half a trillion dollars. Obama knows that a massive spending bill would never pass the GOP-controlled House. The speech was little more than an “out” for him. He can say it’s the lousy Republicans’ fault that the economy is in the tank.
The speech also included his oft-heard bugle call to “class warfare.” I found this strange given that General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt was seated next to the first lady. Although Immelt serves as the head of Obama’s Jobs Council, GE’s most recent claim to fame is that it not only pays little or no taxes, but it’s been shipping jobs to China at an alarming rate.
The president’s lack of originality shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Until now, he has yet to propose a single major bill to Congress, or even to submit a budget of his own. Obamacare? That was Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The stimulus? It was a hodgepodge of pork-barrel spending patched together by most Democrats and many Republicans to assure their own re-election.
If the president has an original idea for job creation, it shares a trait with his records at Columbia and Harvard — it’s a secret. The president had an opportunity to display political courage. Instead, he reverted to his old habit in the Illinois Senate. He voted “present.” He bunted and he missed.
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