The congressional podium is not a campaign stump. But don’t expect President Barack Obama to appreciate that distinction at Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. He rarely does.
The Obama White House and the Obama campaign have become almost indistinguishable. One crafts political slogans, makes empty promises and viciously attacks its opponents. The other is the campaign.
As usual, Tuesday’s speech will be a campaign speech. It will be well-delivered, long on rhetoric — and short on specifics. While the catchphrases may be new, one thing remains the same: It will be politically self-serving.
As usual, Obama will also make promises he won’t keep. “Winning the future,” was 2011’s State of the Union slogan. After a year of record debt, a credit downgrade, high unemployment and political gridlock, we’ve certainly lost much more than we’ve won.
“Winning the election” will likely be this year’s unspoken theme. The president will present his case for a second term, even as the country suffers the consequences of his first. Yet a president’s record, not his words, should be what justifies reelection.
Obama’s record is one of failure — failure to restore the economy, to create jobs, to unite the country. It’s evident on the campaign trail. He’s making the election about fear and division: us versus them, rich versus poor, Republican versus Democrat. That’s the reelection strategy of a failed incumbent president.
There is indeed division in this country — but not the sort the president seeks to create. The real disconnect is between the president and the voters. It’s a disconnect between a president trying to save his job and a people desperately needing jobs of their own.
That disconnect was on full display last week. Washington had an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and a secure, affordable energy source. But Obama had an opportunity to please his political base. So he axed the Keystone pipeline project—and all the jobs that went with it.
The Keystone project made sense for America. The pipeline from Canada would have been a safe and reliable source of oil for the United States. With gas prices rising and Middle Eastern oil exporters growing hostile, it was, in the words of Canada’s prime minister, “a no-brainer.”
Labor unions supported Keystone. Small business supported Keystone. Republicans and Democrats praised the project. After Obama’s hapless decision, nearly every major newspaper in the country excoriated him for not siding with the American people.
The president has a pattern: It’s always his political self-interest before the nation’s best interest. With his massive stimulus, he doled out taxpayer money to his political allies. In 2009, his administration loaned $535 million to the solar energy company Solyndra. The stimulus failed — Solyndra went bankrupt.
The president said no to Keystone, a chance to create jobs without spending government money. But he said yes to Solyndra, a chance to spend government money while destroying jobs. These are, of course, just two examples of failure, but they illustrate his priorities: He says yes to good politics, no to good policy.
Tuesday, though, the president will pretend otherwise. He will declare himself the hope of the country. He will attempt to make himself seem indispensable because, in this weak economy, he knows Americans are inclined to dispense with him at their first chance.
After three years, we see through the façade. We’ve heard it all before. And the disconnect between rhetoric and reality, between president and people, has left America in a state of disunion.
In their annual addresses, presidents traditionally declare, “the state of our union is strong.” Obama will likely say the same. But at the start of 2012, one wonders. Our people are strong, but we’re hurting. We are tough and determined, but growing weary.
While millions remain unemployed, millions more have given up looking for work. Americans are an optimistic people, but when the president makes difficult circumstances worse, it’s unimaginably dispiriting.
Perhaps for the first time in history, the weakness of America’s president is threatening the strength of our people. When the strength of our people is threatened, the state of our union is too.
Americans demand a president who can come to Congress with a plan and purpose. Obama arrives with a speech and a slogan.
It’s a state of disunion.
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