At the end of January, President Barack Obama unleashed upon the nation his fifth State of the Union address, an exercise in redundancy, some would say, because almost everyone in the Union who has been paying attention to current affairs knows that the state of the Union is a mess.
There are some hopeful signs. The romance between Mr. Obama and the Union’s left of center media appears to be suffering some strain.
Consider the following paragraph, which appeared in the Hartford Courant’s print edition the day after the address but was replaced the next day with a different story on the paper’s site:
“In his fifth prime-time State of the Union address, Obama made clear that instead of trying to fix the mess in Washington, he was now promising to find ways around it.”
If you are a U.S. Congressman, Democrat or Republican, this is just the kind of sentence you do not want to see an election year – and Courant editors made certain that visitors to the paper’s site would not see it -- particularly when it appears as a page one story in a major left of center paper such as the Washington Post.
Consider the setting of the State of the Union address. Past presidents have used the occasion to report to Congress on the state of the union, hence the name of the address. Mr. Obama, not surprisingly, is here using the occasion to unfurl an election campaign banner. His critics would say the president has from his crib days forward been in an uninterrupted campaign mode. However, in the upcoming campaigns, Mr. Obama will be playing the part of a bystander running a campaign against – take a deep breath – Congress. The U.S. Congress is perhaps not an appropriate venue for attacks on the Congress. But Mr. Obama perhaps did not wish to dwell on his own record in office. Like most lame duck presidents, he is now running for history, and the occasion presented an opportunity to him to extend his progressive legacy to another generation.
Mr. Obama has been favorably compared to almost every president save Franklin Pierce, but the president he most closely resembles, both in tone and message, is Woodrow Wilson, an unabashed progressive and internationalist. Obamacare, riven by architectural flaws, is Mr. Obama’s League of Nations, professor Woodrow Quixote’s windmill giant. After Obamacare, there can be no second act for Mr. Obama. During his first four years in office, Mr. Obama was incapable of presenting a budget that might make it through the usual legislative sausage machine, and so he presented no passable budget – even to a congress his party controlled. Mr. Obama's crisis presidency is energized by crises of its own making.
In his second lame duck term, Mr. Obama promises further skirmishing, fairly certain that the usual left of center media will point to Republicans as the obdurate opposition. This time around, he will continue to produce legislation through executive fiat. The U.S. Constitution assigns to the body Mr. Obama holds in such high contempt, the U.S. Congress, the power to make laws; the president, in the constitutional scheme of things, is charged with executing laws voted upon by the Congress. During his first term, Mr. Obama fell into the nasty habit of changing laws sent to him by Congress and executing the laws he amended without first submitting the presidential revision to Congress for legislative approval.
U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, who gushed over the State of the Union speech, does not seem to mind the possibly unconstitutional slight.
Mr. Blumenthal pronounced Mr. Obama’s speech “riveting.” Someone should send the senator a rivet; perhaps he does not know what a rivet is or does.
Mr. Blumenthal followed his rivet remark with yet another emotional spasm, unusual for the sometime dour, comically serious former Connecticut Attorney General: “The President’s riveting and resounding address was focused exactly where our priorities need to be – empowering the middle class by creating jobs and boosting the economy, as well as the unprecedented needs of veterans. A minimum wage increase is vital because every American deserves a living wage.”
In Connecticut, the second richest state in the Union, a “living wage” of $10.10 will buy you a ticket to the mortuary. As a matter of fact – Mr. Blumenthal likes to deal in facts; at least that was the case, so he said, when he was Attorney General – a $10.10 an hour salary in Connecticut is rather uncommon. Mr. Blumenthal is best known by his few critics in Connecticut as having claimed or strongly suggested, falsely and several times during his campaign for the Senate, that he was a Vietnam War veteran.
Mr. Obama’s boost in the minimum wage will lift very few boats in Connecticut, and it likely will cost a some workers their jobs. If Mr. Obama wanted to raise a tide that would lift all the boats and at the same time “level the playing field,” a rhetorical expression often used by Mr. Blumenthal, he easily could have lowered business taxes and reduced costly and cumbersome regulations during his first term. The obdurate Republican House would not have opposed such a sensible and effective economic stimulus. Come to think of it, this was precisely the remedy for a stagnant economy presented by President Jack Kennedy in his often quoted speech to the New York Economic Club way back in 1963, a few months before Mr. Kennedy was assassinated. A bipartisan Congress proceeded to reduce marginal tax rates and encumbering regulations, and the economic tide did indeed lift all the boats, as a result of which additional monies flooded both state and national treasuries. Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society” program, which followed the in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, was funded with Mr. Kennedy’s tax revenue.
But never mind that the ship of state is headed for an iceberg or that the state of the union is in disrepair. The states of Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Obama are sounder than the state of the state or the state of the nation, and that's what matters.