According to the White House, President Obama is planning to focus on "five pillars" during his 2011 State of the Union address -- innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction, and reforming government. Poor choice to focus on five points and call them "pillars." As the president surely knows, there are "five pillars" of Islam which are the foundation for the Muslim life. Is this subliminal bow to Mecca worth opening that "can of worms" at the same time Obama is making a head-fake towards center?
The president says that his focus will be "jobs," and according to Chip Reid, the White House correspondent for CBS News, he used the word "jobs" eighteen times in his weekend radio and internet address. The president's new modulated tone and his call for bipartisanship are resulting in higher approval ratings. To help that improvement gain momentum, the Democrats have launched an initiative to pair up with a partner across the aisle for the address. For instance, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has invited Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to sit with him for the speech. With most people seeing the speech on television monitors, the practical and visual end result of a faux love-fest among Members on the Hill, of course, will be to dilute the impact of the shift of power in the House. Surely the GOP is more savvy than that!
However lofty the seeming purpose of the speech and the "pillars" that support it, the administration faces agreed-upon problems, such as untenably high unemployment, escalating deficits and debt, ongoing issues in Afghanistan and Iraq, and previous high-cost failed attempts at stimulus packages. The two different parties have decidedly different solutions for those problems, and their approaches to the issues -- no matter how close the seating arrangements -- are based on value systems that are worlds apart.
Frankly, in recent years, the State of the Union has become nothing more than a laundry list of utopian plans for the future framed in political terms. Rather than provide statesman-type leadership and deal with reality, presidents typically try to sound visionary while promising the moon. In contrast to the pie-in-the-sky rhetoric of the State of the Union that has become de rigueur for the occasion, conservative Republicans have released a plan to cut $2.5 trillion in ten years -- a plan that would bring federal spending back to 2006 levels and provoke howls of protest from big-government liberals that Republicans are heartless thugs out to return us to the dark ages.
The president has achieved his legislative priorities; his cronies, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), rammed through the nearly $900-billion stimulus package, which turned out to be a boondoggle that made the economic situation of the country even worse. The Obama/Reid/Pelosi triangle shoved through universal health care that will (by the time liberal judges and bureaucrats get through with it) result in taxpayer-funded abortions, in spite of overwhelming public opposition. The president thinks that he can now afford to tone down the rhetoric and emphasize bipartisanship and so-called "civility." He is making a show of taking the "high road" at the moment, and we're not suppose to notice his having gotten the massive expansion of government control over the economy that he wanted by taking the "low road."
President Obama came into office having promised to be the kind of leader who could inspire consensus and find bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. It was hoped that his election signaled that Americans were ready to put the race issue behind us and inspired confidence that the power of democracy would heal old divisions. Sadly, Obama's polarizing behavior to date has squandered this opportunity.
President Obama was praised for his recent remarks about the Tucson shooting rampage; many supportive pundits claimed that he showed his old magic. He would be foolish indeed to fritter away the good will and positive impact of that speech. Like President Reagan, whose State of the Union speech in 1986 had to be postponed because of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, Obama has an opportunity to use the Tucson tragedy as a springboard to higher ideals and greater national prestige. It remains to be seen whether the president can restrain his old impulses to attack and belittle any opposition -- past rhetoric shows that he clearly views any opponent as an "enemy."
He has repeatedly embarrassed America by dismissing traditional American values and traditions and denying American exceptionalism when abroad -- even among the nation's fiercest opponents. If he truly believes that our best days are behind us, he should announce practical plans to restore American greatness. Certainly it is time to address some of the nation's worst domestic issues, among them the social issues (lack of marriage and breakdown of marriage) that are root causes of many of our cultural and economic crises.
Given how the president's rhetoric, policies, and political appointments have divided the nation so bitterly, surely he will sense that the time has long since passed for him to pull it back together again. But at this late stage, do the politicians in Washington think that the Tea Party movement -- which their actions brought to life -- will be satisfied by the mere fact that Republicans and Democrats are sitting together in symbolic "unity"? Time, and the polls, will reveal the extent to which the president's address succeeds in distancing him and the Democrat party from the brutal legislative battles of the past two years.
To the extent Obama manages to transcend his caustic rhetoric of the past, he may well pave the way for election 2012. But many who labored for Republican victories in 2010 will watch in dismay if they see the voices of those elected to oppose Obama's progressive agenda muted by their dispersal around the chamber. If this is read as more Washington politics as usual, those Republicans turning the other cheek to impress independents will have made a serious tactical error and face mass defections -- and even the possible formation of a third party.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is director and senior fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America.