Last night President Obama gave a perfectly fine speech. He certainly looked, sounded and seemed presidential. So he may well get a significant bump in the polls, as some analysts predict.
State of the Union addresses, after all, are really acts of political theater more than anything else. They are about conveying a presidential image of gravitas and command.
Obama achieved that last night. But here’s the problem: His was a political speech, not a substantive public policy speech. And Obama’s rhetoric, albeit seemingly high-minded and presidential, revealed a politician who is captive to a failed and discredited left-wing ideology.
Obama’s remarks on taxes illustrate my point:
If we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.
It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.
This line was greeted by a standing ovation from congressional Democrats, who agree heartily with the president about so-called tax fairness. But to conservatives, such thinking is anathema, counterproductive and economically disastrous.
America’s success, after all, is not dependent upon taking more money away from supposed “millionaires” (who, in fact, are often small and struggling businesses). America’s success lies in allowing more people to become millionaires!
Our nation’s problem is not that “millionaires” don’t pay enough in taxes; it is that government spends too much.
And the success of the “bottom 98%” does not require that we punish the “top 2%” of Americans. To the contrary, as President Kennedy put it, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Indeed, when the wealthy do well, that helps the poor and the economically dispossessed. Rich men and women, after all, own and create businesses; they invest in companies and provide the start-up capital for new ventures that create jobs and employment for all Americans.
Yet Obama doesn’t see this. That became even clearer in his next line, when he called for tax simplification but not tax reduction.
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.
Elsewhere in his speech, Obama called for a lower corporate tax rate, but only if doing so doesn’t add to the deficit. And this can be achieved, he explained, by eliminating many corporate tax loopholes, which reduce corporate taxes for some companies but not others.
In other words, Obama said: I’ll lower the corporate tax rate, but only after we’ve effectively raised corporate taxes for many American companies.
Yet he added: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” as he recalled America’s drive for space exploration which culminated, ultimately, in the 1969 Moon landing.
That was, indeed, a great American achievement. But recall what made it possible — not high marginal tax rates on so-called millionaires. Quite the opposite: President Kennedy dramatically cut taxes on the wealthy in order to “get America moving again” by spurring entrepreneurship and innovation.
Today’s economic environment is different, obviously, from that of the early 1960s. Today, onerous regulatory burdens and exacting bureaucratic uncertainty in the form of Obamacare may well be the single largest barrier to full employment.
Nonetheless, our high tax rates — and especially our high corporate tax rates — are an integral part of this problem. And both our regulatory and tax burdens illustrate the anti-market animus that pervades American public policy.
This anti-market animus, unfortunately, has resulted in dramatically high rates of unemployment and joblessness. What American company, after all, is going to risk entrepreneurship in this type of environment — an environment where, quite literally, entrepreneurs and businesses must fear the confiscatory hand of big government?
If Obama’s speech showed that he understood this problem, then there’d be real hope for his administration. But alas, he’s no John F. Kennedy.
Heck, he’s not even Bill Clinton! He’s Barack Obama, a very different kind of American politician, with different formative political experiences. As such, I’m afraid he is genuinely incapable of moving to the center.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.