Last night's State of the Union address by President Obama put me very much in mind of a line from the movie Wag the Dog. A Hollywood producer has arrived to help the president of the United States with a major speech. The producer shows the draft to the president's chief of staff. She replies hesitatingly: "It's sort of corny."
The producer explodes: "Corny? Corny?! Of course, it's corny!"
Yep, the speech was pretty corny. Flags, Seal Team 6, we got each other's backs ... large parts of the writing seem to have come from the kind of movies satirized by Team America. And guess what? People will like it. I could feel those focus group dials whirring faster and faster as the speech wore on.
Last night's speech was the president's most liberal State of the Union yet.
From its endorsement of the DREAM act amnesty for young illegal aliens—to the robust defense of direct government investment in energy and infrastructure—its proposal that states be mandated to give high school diplomas to every student, the speech piled boondoggle upon fantasy. The speech whipsawed between complaining that the corporate tax code was too costly and too complex—and then promising to render the corporate tax code even more complex with new deductions, credits and penalties according to where and how the corporation sited jobs.
Yet at the speech's core were two arguments that represent something more than boondoggle or fantasy, and that will amount to the key re-election propositions.
President Obama faces this grand challenge in 2012: He has not been able to deliver the kind of economic recovery yearned for by voters, especially not his voters: poorer, younger, minority.
In the absence of recovery, the president is offering social reform: a more redistributive tax system to finance more government benefits.
That's the first argument.
The second argument was an argument that Congress' failure to deliver on prior reform proposals reflected institutional failure in need of correction.
These two arguments—higher taxes for more benefits; reform of Congress to expedite social reform—are the president's big offers to the country for November.
—MORE TO COME—