Obama’s SOU Speech Utterly Devoid of Big Ideas

The last five words of this blog title are taken from a recent article by Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist. My politics are the polar opposite of Krauthammer’s but some of his criticisms of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech are on target. I would, however, probably change the end of Krauthammer’s title to read “Brimming With Bad or Unworkable Ideas.”

Krauthammer labels Obama’s proposed Buffett Rule as “a tired replay of the alternative minimum tax….” and he ridicules Obama’s proposal to give a double tax break to high-tech firms as posing definition problems and as unlikely to create blue-collar jobs. I agree with Krauthammer’s take on the double tax break but my concern about the Buffett Rule is much different from that of Krauthammer. I view the Buffett Rule as gimmickry and that it will impede efforts to get a needed fundamental change in the tax rate schedule. It was a giant mistake when conventional wisdom deemed that the top marginal income tax rate should be under 40 percent, which is well out of line with the concentration of wealth in a tiny section of the nation’s population. In an earlier blog I proposed a tax rate schedule ranging from 16 to 60 percent — Robert Reich wants a top rate of 70 percent. My prior blog lays out some other needed taxation changes.

My fear is that if the Buffett Rule is adopted it will kill any momentum to raise the taxes on those with six-figure or even five-figure incomes. Relative to other industrialized nations, the U.S. citizens are under-taxed. In this regard, I feel that Obama’s plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire for only those earning over $250,000 a year is a mistake, not only because the GOP will not likely agree to it but because the nation’s taxpayers, speaking generally, either pay no federal income tax or pay too little.

I also share Krauthammer’s concern about Obama’s plan to give tax breaks to employers who hire military veterans, employers who add employees for any sort of job — easily subject to manipulation — and having separate tax rates for corporations, based on whether they create U.S. jobs or not, and are low-tech, instead of high-tech.

Krauthammer also caught, correctly I believe, the Clintonian aspects of Obama’s speech, in which he called for “little things”: “little watchdog agencies to round up Wall Street miscreants and Chinese DVD pirates….” The little things include a trade inspection unit and a financial fraud unit in the Justice Department. The time to have gone after Wall Street “miscreants” was three years ago; however, Obama didn’t want to look backward, only forward, at the time, so the Bush administration’s complicity in torture and other illegal actions was given a free pass. Now Obama proposes to look back at possible serious financial wrongdoing when the trail has grown cold.

Among these “little things” was Obama’s flat statement that “all sutdents stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”  Krauthammer calls this Obama “playing truant officer.” Obama didn’t say a single word about how this very improbable outcome might happen.

Charles Krauthammer made no comment about Obama’s opening and closing his speech with glorification of the military and Krauthammer also ignored foreign policy comments by Obama. I was dismayed by the fact that Obama signaled no downsizing of a bloated Pentagon; also, his advice that a representative democracy should model itself on a hierarchical, orders-from-the-top-down miilitary structure is simply an absurdity.

President Obama made no mention or defense of the power he has abrogated to detain and even kill U.S.citizens. Furthermore, Obama’s celebration of the success in eliminating Al Qaeda leaders masks the possible downside of drone strikes creating more violent extremists than they eliminate.

Missing from the speech was any indication that Obama will end his assault on civil liberties, which exceeds, if anything, any action taken by George W. Bush.

We also saw in the SOU speech the Obama practice of following two incompatible pathways, illustrated by: 1) his call for more oil and natural gas production juxtapositioned against his call for clean energy tax credits and standards; 2) his vow to tear down regulations that hold back small businesses countered by the need to enact smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior; and 3) his fulsome praise of the military’s past actions posited against the need for a new defense strategy.

One thing which President Obama didn’t take off the table in his SOU speech was his threat to use nuclear weapons if Iran crosses certain red lines in its nuclear program. The danger and lawlessness of this stance is explored in my next blog.

In summary, the Obama SOU speech doesn’t hold up well under close scrutiny but it appears to have been extremely effective as a political statement. His political base is more focused on playing up the weakness and meanness of his political opposition than in holding him to the promises of fundamental change he made the core of his presidential campaign.


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