Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the State of the Union: Uneventful

If you missed the President's State of the Union Address last night, you did not miss much. It was "surprisingly unsurprising," if I may borrow an analysis from a Cato scholar's live blogging during the event. I couldn't agree more.

President Obama started doing what he does best--painting word pictures, presenting broad platitudes, and offering no real policy meat. But unlike his success in the past two years, these words seemed to fall flat. I don't think anyone across the political spectrum was truly please with the speech. There was no "game changing" statements, no signal to the left that he was going to be the liberal they want, and no signal to the right that he would become the moderate they can tolerate.

There were some new policy directions announced. For example, President Obama announced his intent to overturn "Don't ask. Don't tell." For this he should be commended. Whether or not you are pro gays in the military. "Don't ask. Don't tell." has been a ridiculous and failed policy that needs to be done away with. Morover, in his speech, Obama announced a few other new policies such as new bank taxes, his "spending freeze" which is nothing more than an attempt to save face and preserve current entitlement spending (Anyone against runaway government spending should be against this "spending freeze."), and a host of other "new" economic policies. The truth is that these "new" policies are not really that new. They are merely different ways to continue government interventionism into the economy. Do not be fooled.

Moreover, the President's speech had a number of highlights for policy wonks, if you knew where to look. When speaking on trade, Obama seemed to endorse the practice of mercantilism in his call for balanced import substitution. Mercantilism is dangerous and misguided as it has always been. We need to produce more. We need to export more. But we do not need artificial trade barriers which will end in ruin. Likewise, the President's emphasis on the economy in general was misguided as it placed the government at the center of all. The policies laid out by the President such as his "small business tax credit," his call for equal pay for equal work, and his continued call for government spending on unnecessary projects to create short-term and unnecessary work programs, are misguided and will only worsen the current economic climate. These policies at their heart are nothing more than the continuation of the interventionist policies that have gotten us into this mess.

Perhaps most striking from the speech was President Obama's attacks on Republicans and the Supreme Court. Though the partisan attack can be written off as mere tackiness, the attack on the Court flies in the face of proper behavior when considering our nations system of separation of powers. First, the President went out of his way to attack a non-legislative branch of government at a questionable time. Secondly, his statement was completely false, not grounded in one bit of truth. A disagreement with a ruling is one thing. An false attack for one's own populist gain is another.

As I have already said, not much earth shattering came out of the President's speech, but maybe that is because we have heard much of it before. Just look at how Obama's SOTU measures up with those of Bush.

Sadly, in a speech clearly playing to populist emotions, the populace was unable to find hope for the State of the Union.

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