The Constitution requires the President to inform Congress on the “state of the union” annually. The time of the year is not specified, but traditionally Presidents have given the address in January or February. Presidents are not required to give it in person. George Washington gave the initial one, in person, in 1790. In fact, during the 19th century most of them were actually delivered to Congress in handwritten form. Apparently, they were not viewed as that big a deal. With the advent of radio, however, Presidents began to see an opportunity to disseminate their policies directly to the people. Hence, they were broadcast on the radio and, later, telecast on TV. Down through the years most of them have been rather mundane, however, a few of the notable announcements were:
1. President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
2. FDR described the famous “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) in 1941.
3. LBJ outlined his War on Poverty in 1964.
Last night, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union speech. I can sum it up succinctly in four words: “same old, same old.” It more resembled a campaign speech, than an objective state of the union. The rhetoric was fine, but we know from experience that his actions will not live up to it.
For example, he denoted that (1) unemployment is down; (2) the stock market is up; (3) he wants to help the “working man;” (4) he wants to work with Congress; and (5) the world is safer today. But, a closer examination reveals these to be half-truths or down right falsehoods.
1. Statistically, unemployment is down, but some polls show that part of that decrease is attributable to some of the unemployed having given up on finding a job and essentially leaving the workforce. These people are not counted in the unemployment statistics. Polls show that we presently have the lowest percentage of labor force participation since 1978. In addition, many of those who are employed are working fewer hours or even part-time. This is not by choice.
2. The rising stock market is fine, but it only helps those who actually own stocks. According to a recent Pew Research survey approximately 47% of American families own any stock at all. Moreover, there is a direct correlation between income and stock ownership. Only 15% of families with an annual income of $30,000 or less own any stock, whereas 80% of those with an annual income of $75,000 or more do. Thus, the rising stock market has only served to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, which Mr. Obama has often criticized and vowed to change.
3. He wants to help the working man, but the middle class is being squeezed considerably. They are caught between the rich who have benefited from the rising stock market and other factors, and the poor, who have benefited from the growth of entitlements. Wages have been stagnant for a decade. Median income is down. According to an ABC News poll 74% of respondents said their finances have not improved in the last six years, and 56% believe that President Obama’s policies have made the economy worse or had no effect.
4. He says he wants to work cooperatively with Congress, but in the next breath he lists four items he will definitely veto: the Keystone Pipeline, immigration reform, modifications to Obamacare, and sanctions on Iran. Yes, there are arguments on both sides of these issues, but certainly, common ground can be found. Threatening a veto in advance is counterproductive. My conclusion is that he wants to work with Congress but only if they adhere to his policies. I think he is an ideologue who does not know how to compromise and has no interest in doing so.
5. Does anyone believe the world is safer today than it was six years ago? For example, we have had attacks by home-grown terrorists, who are actually American citizens (Fort Hood, Boston marathon), ISIS televised beheadings, al Qaeda attacks (Paris being the most recent), Iran developing nuclear capability, Yemen about to disintegrate, and rogue states such as Russia and North Korea doing what they want with impunity. All this and Mr. Obama won’t even say the words “Islamic terror.” Furthermore, he won’t let his staff say it. So, anyone feel like going on a vacation around the world?
The country is in deep trouble, and the President doesn’t seem to realize it. He has tuned out the results of the 2014 elections, which delivered a resounding repudiation of his policies and record. If he won’t acknowledge the existence of the problems we are facing, how is he going to resolve them?
Fox News retained a focus group to listen to the speech and opine on it afterwards. Before some of you roll your eyes at the notion of Fox News, consider that the group consisted of all ages, genders, races and political preferences. About half of the participants disclosed that they had voted for Mr. Obama in 2012. Afterwards, none of them said they were optimistic about the future and Mr. Obama’s ability to deal with it. I am afraid I share their pessimism.