f President Obama were to be rated solely on oratory in last night’s State of the Union address, he would have achieved a true bipartisan consensus. Even some of the President’s most severe critics among conservative Republicans in the House remarked on his eloquence and style in delivering the state of the Union address, with one freshman even likening Obama to
Ronald Reagan as an orator.
But that’s where it ended. When it came to some of the high points in the one hour-plus address to Congress—freezing non-defense discretionary spending for five years, greater investment in education and “green jobs,” deregulation—House GOPers were almost to a person skeptical about Obama “moving to the center” and immediately critical of the agenda he was laying out.
“It was a good speech and he said all of the right things—reforming government, phasing out redundant agencies and freezing spending,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) told me moments after Obama concluded, “These are all the things I stand for. But my problem with it is I just don’t believe most of it.”
Terry went on to warn that Obama’s speech may be an “oratorical noose in that he is commiting to freezing spending but laying out all these new spending programs.”
House GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) dubbed Obama “a great orator—with big themes and small ideas.”
“I agree with 80% of what he said tonight and disagree strongly with 80% of what he’s done,” Hensarling told HUMAN EVENTS, adding that Obama’s policies so far mean “we continue to borrow China’s money as we head down the road to bankrupcy.” Like many other Republicans we spoke to, Hensarling voiced alarm at the President’ suse of the word “investment” because, in his words, “investment means more spending and under [Obama] we spending 40% more on the dollar.”
Most of what Obama spoke of last night, Hensarling added, “we’ve already tried and it has failed.”
As was the case throughout the evening, the toughest commentary on the State of the Union address came from the ranks of the 85 Republican freshman who were first elected last fall.
Freshman Rep. Bill Huizinga (R.-Mich), who was a state representative until his election to Congress last fall, said that sitting in the House chamber and listening to Obama “was déjà vu. It reminded me of sitting in the Michigan legislature and listening to our former Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. I sat through six of her ‘state of the state’ addresses and she was masterful. But her action was a big part of the reason our state has had unemployment higher than the national average and I sensed the same thing when the President was promising a little something for everyone.”
(Huizinga also told me how, as part of the bipartisan spirit, he sat with Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Donna Edwards of Maryland “and I think the President caught them off guard when he talk of working with Congress to lower corporate taxes.”)
“He did a good job in terms of delivery and almost sounded like Ronald Reagan,” freshman Rep. Raul Labrador (R.-Ida) told us. But he quickly echoed Hensarling in warning that Obama’s talk of “investment” probably means “more spending and, at some point, more taxes. The reality has to match the rhetoric if the President wants to work with Congress on anything.”
Perhaps the best characterization of the dilemma the President faces with the agenda he spelled out and the Republican House came from one of his sharpest critics on the campaign trail: Allen West, the much-decorated veteran who won a House seat from Florida and is one of two African-American Republicans in the House.
Last night, however, West said that the President was someone caught in between trying to please the base of his party and reach out to the middle and right to accomplish things. Pointing to a printed copy of Obama’s address, West said “Here he says we must ‘ask millionaires to give up their tax breaks’ and here he says ‘we must simplify our tax codes.’ He’s caught in between trying to please the base of his party and reach out to the middle and right to accomplish things.