On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his penultimate State of the Union address.
No doubt, many conservatives will be thinking of that glorious day in January 2017 when (they hope) a Republican president delivers his or her first state of the union address.
The new president would open his address by telling Americans that the time has come to realize that government is not the solution. “I don’t believe in bigger government,” he’ll announce. “Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending.”
He would remind Americans of the crushing burden of debt we’ve saddled our children with ($19 trillion by then). We have a “responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. That is critical.”
And so he would take on the third rail in American politics: entitlement reform (the projected shortfall for both programs will by then have cracked the $50 trillion mark). “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security.”
Channeling his inner Ronald Reagan, the new president would pledge to “go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs.” He would take on vested interests and speak out against cronyism. “We will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks.”
As a true conservative, the new president would also emphasize the indispensable role of the family. “In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences or help with homework or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child. I speak to you not just as a president, but as a father, when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.”
Looking at a dangerous world and the threats to American security, he would pledge to combat radical Islamism “because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world.”
What a speech that would be.
There’s just one catch: that speech has already been given.
Every single one of these quotes comes from Obama’s first State of the Union address. While he did say other things in that address that revealed his progressive bent, all these statements would elicit roars of approval at any Tea Party rally.
This, of course, was the Obama of 2008: the post-partisan apostle of hope and the embodiment of the change we had been waiting for (never mind that he had the most liberal voting record of any senator). Over the past six years, the real Obama has gradually revealed himself and he is unquestionably a man of the Left.
It is nonetheless telling that early on in his career he felt the need to pay lip service to conservative ideals. America may not be as conservative as the right wishes it were, but it still is more conservative than the left would like it to be.
Ultimately, there was little hope that the proposals of Obama—or of any other president addressing Congress for that matter—would get enacted. The president, contrary to what the tone and tenor of modern state of the union addresses imply, is not a prime minister leading a legislative caucus.
Our Constitution clearly separates the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. The president may propose, but Congress is in no way bound to dispose. To state the obvious, the president cannot introduce legislation in Congress, much less pass it. And so Obama’s much touted “free community college plan” is dead in the water.
In this regard, the modern State of the Union is deeply misleading. It gives the average citizen the impression that the president is at the helm of a unified state. Rather than lecture (and hector) the assembled members of Congress and the nine justice of the Supreme Court, it would be better to return to the Jeffersonian practice of submitting a written state of the union report.
In fact, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, who needs a presidential sermon to determine the state of the union?