Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2014/ 28 Shevat, 5774
Give us the truth, Mr. President
By Roger Simon
Obama sought to rekindle his former relationship with the American people through his fifth State of the Union address. But I think it may take more than a speech. Counseling may be required.
After listening to the entire 65-minute speech and reading all of the nearly 6,900 words of the text, I was filled with the ominous sense that I had seen this movie before and that we all had been there and done that.
The big takeaway, heralded by the press all day, was supposed to be that Obama was going to take his own executive actions and not wait for a paralyzed Congress to pass legislation.
Big deal. It’s an old idea. And not that effective. Many presidents have tried it, including Barack Obama. When I interviewed his then-Chief of Staff Bill Daley in October 2011, Daley said that Obama “based upon frustration” was “going to every agency, every department and saying, ‘What can you do on your own?’ ” without waiting for action by Congress.
Doesn’t seem to have done the job, does it? Not only is a president’s power limited, but whatever one president can do by executive action, a succeeding president can undo by executive action.
Obama needed to tell us how he was going to pick up Congress by the scruff of its neck and shake some action out of it.
But Obama aides told reporters before his speech that he would not be very combative toward Republicans and not be very partisan.
They were not kidding. During his speech Obama sounded as if he were among friends. “As president, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here,” he said. “I believe most of you are, too.”
Really? What makes him think so? The shutdown of the government? The refusal by Congress to extend unemployment benefits, or pass needed gun control legislation, or immigration reform? That’s the Congress that wants to rebuild our trust?
It hasn’t rebuilt my trust; it has shaken it.
I had hoped for a tougher Obama. I had hoped for an Obama who was weary of his open hand being smacked away time and again by the closed fists of Republicans in the House.
Even when Obama had opportunities, he didn’t take them. He said that because of Obamacare, “no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman.”
How true. But I wanted him to add: “But if you vote for a Republican Senate and a Republican House this November, all that might go way.”
I guess that would have been too partisan.
Obama devoted a whole 67 words to gun control, offering no specifics in a speech that was stuffed with specifics on other issues. Then he moved on to the more popular ground of “the men and women of the United States armed forces.”
Yes, I was moved when Obama spoke of the incredibly brave and dedicated Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who “was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.”
And, yes, I teared up watching Remsburg struggle to stand up from his honored seat in the balcony next to the First Lady and wave to the audience. Who could not be moved?
The president’s point, however, was not that our troops should come home from Afghanistan, but that they should stay for another 10 years after fighting there for more than a dozen years already.
“But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts,” he said.
He won’t? What is Afghanistan if not an open-ended conflict?
The president who once gave us the audacity of hope, should at least give us the audacity of truth. And a little fighting spirit of his own.
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