At some point in the George W. Bush Presidency, salve the majority of American citizens simply stopped listening to the President.
That seemed to have begun early in the second Bush term, when the President spoke and seemed bored because he knew his audience was bored.
President Obama’s State of the Union Address last night may be the first sign that Americans may have begun to tune his words out.
He repeated the tired old theme, “It’s all Bush’s fault.” He called for bipartisanship at the same time he jabbed Republicans for not doing things his way. He called for a partial freeze on the very smallest part of the federal budget—non-defense, discretionary domestic spending. If his freeze really occurs, it will be nothing more than a rounding error in the projected trillion deficit for the next decade. He called for a joint commission on fiscal reform and deficit reduction, which seems not much more than cover for many Democrats who will be up for re-election this November.
What was glaringly absent was any aggressive new vision for the nation. In this regard, he seemed to retrogress to the George H.W. Bush “You know, it’s that vision thing” tone. No specific suggestions on how to forge bi-partisanship on the scarred healthcare bill still pending Congressional action; no new ideas on climate change or energy policy; nothing new on the economy, except the “jobs creation” initiative already beginning its Congressional Odyssey; and merely obligatory nods to immigration reform.
The famous former House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said, “If you can’t beat on big banks and big oil, it must not be America.” President Obama has revised that slightly — now it’s big health insurance and big banks. Obama’s bashing banks, financial institutions, health insurance companies, and profits had echoes of an old-fashioned populist anger that periodically roils American politics.
Certainly the speech contained nothing that got to the heart of the President’s political problem — the much-observed revolt of the independent voter. That creature, under investigation of almost unprecedented intensity by pundits, wants “something.” The creature isn’t sure what it wants, because it thought it had voted for “change” in 2008. Now “change” seems to have morphed into a change that the independents don’t want. What does the independent voter really want? It kind of reminds me of the age- old question, “What do women really want?” Politicians seems as mystified on how to make independents happy, just as most men are clueless about women.
In large part, the State of the Union Address captured the present political landscape — attack deficits, but don’t touch my Social Security or Medicare; create jobs, but make sure you punish those bad banks that lend money to job-creating businesses; make sure that we insure every citizen, but make sure we don’t increase government intrusion. The contradictory forces inside America today forced the President to simply punt: give a speech that limits political damage, and get off stage as quickly as possible.
The President also got a chance to see real fear in the flesh: literally dozens of endangered Democratic Members of Congress hoping to survive in November. They listened carefully, hoping that the President would say something and suggest anything, that will change the political tide.
Now there is “change” Congress can really embrace.