President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night was an artful demonstration of the politics of demonization, but one that lacked any effort to build consensus, conciliation, or a real plan for the future.
Notwithstanding President Obama’s lofty rhetoric and calls for unity and bipartisanship, the SOTU was largely a reprise of basic leftwing themes: populism generally and class-based politics specifically.
The President struck a defiant and confrontational tone – attacking banks, oil companies, and of course, Congress and politicians – specifically, the GOP who he demonized as being systematically focused on the needs of the wealthy and powerful.
He pushed redistributive policies and fairness – while emphasizing his commitment to standing up for the middle class, but what he did not do was focus on the real issues that matter most to people: growing the economy, promoting job creation, balancing the budget, reducing debt and taking on entitlements.
Absent from his speech was a long-term plan to reduce the debt and deficit, create jobs, and achieve lasting economic growth.
Case in point: he called for a millionaire’s tax without proposing any conventional deductions.
A millionaires tax might sound great today, but will ultimately be huge political blunder both substantively (stunting growth) and politically (will be seen as raising taxes across the board).
Meanwhile, Mitch Daniels’ response on behalf of the GOP was flat and dull.
Indeed to date, most discussions coming out of the GOP primary race have looked backward rather than forward – as Romney and Gingrich continue to debate principles of free market capitalism, the specifics about what Bain Capital did or didn’t do, and Washington lobbying and influence peddling.
To date, neither side has put forth an agenda that is more positive, proactive, or inclusive.
And both sides have virtually ignored the primary concerns of swing voters and independents – the two groups who will ultimately decide the election.
Thus, the key takeaway from the 2012 SOTU is that we are almost certainly guaranteed four more years of the same gridlock we have seen to date.