When television viewers want a sharp, critical look at a State of the Union speech from Barack Obama, they turn to … MSNBC? For one remarkable night and one brief moment — yes. After listening to Obama rack up all his foreign-policy wins and national-security improvements, it’s fair to say that Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell didn’t feel thrills running up their respective legs. In fact, both of them wondered what the color of the sky in Obama’s world might be (via Daniel Halper):
MATTHEWS: Because I kept thinking tonight that there’s a real world out there he didn’t really talk about, and had perhaps overambitious notions about where we stood in the war against ISIL, the Islamic State. He doesn’t want to call it the Islamic State, but that’s what they call themselves. Those two Japanese people with no guilt on their shoulders, just staring there out of the desert who are going to be apparently decapitated — that reality, what’s going on in Nigeria is reality. How close was the President to reality overall, globally, tonight?
MITCHELL: I think that on foreign policy, his projection of success against terrorism and against ISIS, in particular, as I said, is not close to reality. They have not come up with a strategy, and they’ve built a global coalition, but again, he’s talked about Ukraine, he’s talked about Putin being isolated. Yes, Putin is isolated economically and the falling oil prices have hammered his economy. But at the same time, there’s renewed fighting in Donetsk, and we haven’t figured out Ukraine, we haven’t figured out how the NATO alliance can push back. Sanctions have not really worked, and Ukraine is going to need more weaponry, and they have not reached that point. So you’re right, Chris, it doesn’t match the reality.
There was plenty of unreality from Obama last night, including his refusal to acknowledge that he put his agenda on the line in the midterms and lost badly. Obama never even acknowledged that loss or the rejection of his agenda. Instead, he trotted out the same old hobby horses for another circle around the track while claiming to be the model of bipartisanship. I’ll have more on that later.
What’s fascinating about this isn’t that Obama claimed success on foreign policy; he’s been trying to sell failure as success ever since the “jayvees” comment a year ago. It’s that he can’t even make the sale at the one network that lives to carry his water, on the one night Obama needed it the most. Mitchell gets it more right than Matthews — we have no strategy against ISIS, just a series of tactical moves through proxies which will harass ISIS but won’t destroy them or even degrade them much, especially not in the short term. Putin’s only isolated from Europe; he’s making a new alliance with Iran, and he’s back to fighting Ukraine without a peep from Obama.
Last night was a declaration of inanity, so much so that even MSNBC’s analysts recoiled from it. Byron York noticed it as well, and not just on foreign policy:
Obama sounded equally disconnected from reality on some domestic issues. For example, when discussing the nation’s veterans, he said, “Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care.” A listener wouldn’t know it from Obama’s speech, but there has been a huge VA scandal since Obama’s last State of the Union; his secretary of Veterans Affairs had to resign because of it. Veterans died waiting for treatment. All Obama said Wednesday night was, “We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need.” By “benefits,” the president apparently meant “life-saving medical care.”
At another point, Obama claimed credit for a “re-energized space program.” The remark surely led to some jaws dropping among laid-off National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineers who believe Obama has nearly killed the place.
The president’s final disconnect was perhaps the biggest. After a “vicious recession … tonight, we turn the page,” Obama said. “With a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production, we have risen from recession.” For some Americans, that is the case, although even for them, “bustling” might be a bit much. For other Americans, the news is still pretty bad. When a recent Fox News poll asked, “For you and your family, does it feel like the recession is over, or does it feel like the country is still in a recession?” 64 percent of respondents said it feels like there is still a recession. Indeed, it’s widely conceded that part of the reason the unemployment rate has fallen is because a core of discouraged workers dropped out of the job search altogether. So for many listeners, Obama’s “turn the page” declaration will seem as out of touch as his claim that Islamic State’s advance has been stopped.
It’s as though Obama was asleep between the 2014 SOTU and last night. That would explain a lot about last year, actually …