President Barack Obama, as usual, didn’t draw much applause from Republican lawmakers during Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. But when he pointed out, “I have no more campaigns to run,” GOP lawmakers roared their approval.
That set up this withering presidential comeback, which elicited rousing cheers from Democrats: “I know because I won both of them.”
However, that additional rhetorical victory lap followed a sadly familiar pattern of the Obama presidency. He simply has not matched his calls for bipartisan collaboration with initiatives that truly seek compromises with Republicans.
Instead, on Tuesday night he produced a stale array of proposals to tax “the super rich.” And he glossed over, or totally ignored, numerous serious foreign policy challenges — including the grim fact that his 2012 declaration of victory over al-Qaida was quite premature.
Yes, Mr. Obama did win both of his presidential races. Yet that second triumph came more than 26 months ago. And less than three months ago, the president’s party — and to a large degree his policies — suffered a stinging national rebuke from voters as Republicans gained firm control of the Senate with a net gain of nine seats and strengthened their hold on the U.S. House.
That’s a severe contrast to the strong Democratic majorities Mr. Obama enjoyed in both chambers of Congress in his first two years as president. His presidential tenure also has been accompanied by significant declines in Democratic numbers in governorships and state legislatures.
And just as the president seemed unwilling Tuesday night to acknowledge the electorate’s rejections of his party, he painted a too-rosy scenario of the ongoing economic recovery, declaring: “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”
Factcheck.org refuted that assessment, reporting that while the national unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in October 2009 to 5.6 percent last month, “the size of the labor force has also continued to shrink through the Obama presidency. That reflects some baby boomer retirements, but also the frustration of workers giving up on ever finding a decent paying job. The labor force participation rate is now 62.7 percent, the lowest level since 1978.”
Yes, presidents tend to accentuate the positive economic trends on their watches — and the American economy is clearly on the rise.
Yes, politicians, including lawmakers, tend to play self-serving games of claiming or shifting credit or blame in good times or bad.
And yes, just as the president has a responsibility to recognize the voters’ will in choosing to put Republicans in charge of Congress, GOP lawmakers have a responsibility to recognize the voters’ will in choosing to twice put Mr. Obama in the White House.
At least there is some limited potential for bipartisan cooperation. For instance, the president seems to have sufficient GOP support for advancing overdue trade deals in Asia and beyond.
There also appears to be an opening for incremental immigration reform legislation — that is, if the president doesn’t follow through on his stated, misguided intention to have his way on that issue through more constitutionally dubious executive orders.
As for Mr. Obama’s apparently permanent fixation on raising taxes on “the wealthy” to help “the middle class,” a Democratic president who couldn’t get such soak-the-rich plans through a Congress run by his own party is highly unlikely to achieve that aim with a Congress run by Republicans.
Thus, President Obama —and GOP lawmakers — must make a defining decision:
They can either persist in political posturing that feeds further polarization and gridlock or they can move toward overdue middle ground.
And unfortunately, the president’s State of the Union speech did not point in the positive direction.