Orange County (Calif.) Register: Obama looks back; America looks ahead

JAN. 13, 2016 — President Barack Obama’s eighth and final State of the Union address sounded a note of optimism and set the stage for what he promised would be a national campaign to bring Americans together, and which he hopes will define his place in the history books.

We agree with his call for Congress to work more closely with him to solve some of the nation’s most pressing problems. But lately that has not been the tone set by his administration, especially with his numerous executive orders that impose policies by circumventing Congress and which don’t mesh with his reminder of “our commitment to the rule of law.”

The president promised a short speech Tuesday night, but it still stretched to about an hour. And, although it didn’t include a laundry list of proposals, given that Congress is unlikely to enact many of them, it did include a long list of what he sees as his accomplishments. He touted the long economic recovery and the creation of 14 million jobs and cutting unemployment in half since the Great Recession he inherited.

The problem is that much of the credit has to go to the Federal Reserve Board’s expansion of the money supply at the beginning of the recession, and its seven-year zero-interest-rate policy, which only last month it began to end. The problem with ZIRP is that it discourages savings by persons with passbook savings accounts, while encouraging the expansion of wealth by investors — including wealthy people whom Obama attacked for having too much money.

If the end of ZIRP produces an economic slowdown later this year, the president’s optimism tonight will have proved premature.

He also, not surprisingly, touted the success of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — in particular praising it for enrolling 18 million uninsured people. Yet much of the rest of the country, especially the middle class, has suffered shocking insurance premium increases. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nationally premiums on average will jump 12.56 percent. And from 2010-14, according to the Washington Times, average premiums “skyrocketed, for some groups by as much as 78 percent.”

Contrast that to the president’s 2008 campaign promise, “We’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year. … We’ll do it by the end of my first term as president of the United States.” The fact is that the ramifications of Obamacare, good and bad, will be with us for a long time.

The president insisted, correctly, “A thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. … There is red tape that needs to be cut.” Yet according to a tally last May by the Heritage Foundation, just the year 2014 saw “the addition of 27 new major rules” for a total of 184 major new rules, with the cost to business “estimated by regulators to be nearly $80 billion.” The Dodd-Frank financial regulations alone “encompassed 850 pages of legislative text, and has spawned 19,000 pages of regulations” — so far.

There actually were some positive elements in the speech. Obama celebrated the greatness of American invention and exploration, from Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver to astronaut Sally Ride. He touted his restoration of relations with Cuba and called on Congress to lift a trade embargo now more than 50 years old.

On foreign policy, he gilded over his dubious nuclear deal with Iran on a day when 10 American sailors were taken into custody by the Iranian navy. He correctly called for maintaining a strong military and destroying those, such as the Islamic State, that attack Americans. And rightly disdained excessive intervention in foreign countries. “Leadership remains the wise use of American power,” he said. Alas, his intervention in toppling the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya turned that country into a haven for terrorists.

He concluded by saying one of the “few regrets of my presidency” was the “rancor” between himself and Congress. But the president himself is as much to blame for a country in ways more divided than it was for his first State of the Union address in 2009, when he said, “What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.”

In reality, this may have been his last chance to set the overall agenda as Americans turn to the race to replace him in the White House. The president was jaunty and celebratory in his speech, but a divided nation now is looking beyond his presidency.

By The Orange County (Calif.) Register