I sympathized with Speaker John Boehner as he sat behind President Obama last night.
I had been in the same position with President Clinton back in January, 1995.
On the one hand the Republican Speaker is the leader of the opposition party and deeply disagrees with much of the speech he is being forced to listen to.
On the other hand as Speaker of the House you are the host to the President and both institutional history and common courtesy require a positive and pleasant demeanor.
From the experience of sitting through 16 State of the Unions from the floor and four from the perspective of the Speaker’s chair, let me offer a few observations about last night’s speech.
Winning the Future…couldn’t have said it better myself!
I mentioned my first State of the Union as Speaker when I sat behind President Clinton because there has been a lot of speculation about whether President Obama will move to the center as President Clinton did after the 1994 Republican revolution.
Of course, President Clinton’s flight to the center is credited for saving his presidency after a devastating defeat just two years into his first term.
So after an even greater Republican landslide in 2010, and as President Obama eyes a tough reelection with an economy in much worse shape, the question is whether President Obama will make a similar move to the center and try to co-opt much of the Republican agenda as his own.
Well, it certainly felt like “déjà vu all over again” this weekend when people started emailing me asking how I felt about the President picking the theme “winning the future” for his State of the Union address.
I wrote a book in 2005 called Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.
Was President Obama setting the stage to adopt elements of my 21st Century Contract with America, just as President Clinton embraced the original Contract with America?
Winning the Future…for big government.
What we heard last night did echo some themes from Winning the Future.
The basic plot was expressed – the need to compete with China and India, reform our tax code, stand up for human rights across the globe, defeat the terrorists, solve the challenge of illegal immigration, and improve math and science learning.
But it was clear that when it came down to hard policy proposals (with a few exceptions), the President’s vision was still big government dressed up in moderate clothing.
The most obvious example was in the President’s disingenuous suggestion of a 5 year discretionary spending freeze as a way to deal with our huge deficit. This after two years of a spending binge unlike this country has ever seen.
Imagine if your son or daughter came home from college after racking up a huge debt on your credit card and said, “I’ve got great news! I’m going to freeze the amount I’m spending every month at the absurdly high level I have established already!”
The President is trying to protect the big government he has created, not bring it back within its proper constitutional limits.
President Obama evoked the memory of JFK by talking about a new “Sputnik moment” in the context of competing with China and India.
But JFK understood that the best way of winning the future was to get big government out of the way to unleash the creativity of the American people, not “freeze” it.
The only proposals we heard from President Obama to cut taxes were on the condition that other taxes were raised. Reshuffling our corporate tax code is not going to create jobs.
Compare President Obama to JFK, who said in 1962:
“Our true choice is not between tax reduction, on the one hand, and the avoidance of large Federal deficits on the other. It is increasingly clear that no matter what party is in power, so long as our national security needs keep rising, an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits… In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”
The truth is, what we heard last night from President Obama was not the pro free enterprise talk of JFK. It was the big government of LBJ.
Lessons from 1995-96
President Obama used yet another clever euphemism for even more big government spending.
Now that the American taxpayer understands that “stimulus” means more spending and more debt, Obama is now calling even more spending and even more debt “investment.”
But ask yourself a simple question.
After seeing the failure of the stimulus spending with all those so-called “shovel ready” projects, would you now want to pay higher taxes and incur more debt for those same shovel ready projects just as long as they are now calling them “investments”?
If stimulus and investment are both about more spending and more debt, can we really say the President moved to the center last night, or instead doubled down on big government?
This brings us back to my first State of the Union as Speaker in 1995.
It is important to remember that President Clinton did not immediately move to the center. His famous declaration that “the era of big government is over” did not occur in the 1995 State of the Union. It was in 1996.
In fact, President Clinton fought us for months. He vetoed welfare reform twice. It wasn’t until he realized that he would lose reelection that he eventually relented, signed welfare reform, and adopted many other items in the Contract with America, including balancing the budget, tax cuts, and entitlement reform.
We didn’t do everything perfectly during our battles with President Clinton, but we won on the issues by being principled and tough – a lesson House Republicans should keep in mind in the days ahead.
President Obama is scheduled to present his budget to Congress on February 13th, ostensibly with this proposed spending freeze to try and create the impression he is serious about the deficit.
If Republicans calmly explain to the American people why a simple freeze won’t do the job, the vast majority of Americans will immediately understand and side with them in their desire to oppose big government spending and restore limited government.
We can win on the issues today like we did in 1995.
Remember the 1996 Republicans were the first reelected House GOP majority since 1928. If you win for the first time in 68 years you are doing something right. Standing by our principles and standing up to a liberal President were the keys to that success.
P.S. Callista and I, along with Dave Bossie, are proud to release our new photo book, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, inspired by the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan and our documentary of the same name. In honor of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday on February 6th, we’ll have more to say about Ronald Reagan in next week’s newsletter.
P.P.S. Callista and I are also very proud that our documentary, Nine Days that Changed the World, has been nominated for The People’s Choice Festival Award on February 26th.
Newt’s Quick Links
• Jim Miller, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Post Office, has responded to my criticism of the Forever Stamp, making the fair point that it is often Congress that stands in the way of meaningful reform. You can read it here;
• In a speech yesterday in Iowa, I proposed replacing the EPA with an Environmental Solutions Agency. You can learn more about this exciting initiative here;
• In his piece posted at ReAL, G. Tracy Mehan discusses the disturbing level of abortions taking place in New York City and how local church leaders are standing up for life. Click here;
• At ReAL Action, listen to Frank Gaffney discuss Sharia Law. Click here.
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