Since the weekend, the White House has been proudly signaling that President Barack Obama will propose a series of new tax hikes targeting the wealthy in tonight’s State of the Union address. As The Washington Examiner’s Jason Russell observed, the president is nothing if not consistent. He has backed tax hikes in every State of the Union address he has delivered since 2009.
But while some of the president’s proposed tax increases passed with the help of compliant Democrats in control of one or both chambers of Congress over the course of his presidency, any new taxes that Obama proposes tonight have next to no chance of becoming law. But for Obama, the limited viability of his State of the Union proposals is no obstacle to putting them forward. Over the last six years, the president has made an absurd number of wild projections and fanciful promises.
The folks over at Grabien produced this montage of Obama’s promises in State of the Union addresses and found no fewer than 112 unfulfilled guarantees.
“We should also note that many of these promises are duplicated from one year to another,” Grabien noted. “For example, every year he has pledged to pass comprehensive immigration reform, overhaul corporate taxes, reduce regulations, and close Guantanamo Bay.”
From pledging to seek out a “cure for cancer in our time,” to cutting the deficit in half before the end of his first term, to a government spending freeze; the president has sacrificed his credibility. Obama’s State of the Union addresses are today accurately lampooned as little more than wish lists. They are speeches designed to establish a set of priorities and positions, but they cannot be considered governing agendas. Obama’s State of the Union addresses are not all that different from the speeches he delivers before rapt audiences of Democrats at his party’s presidential nominating conventions. They have no higher aim than making the listener feel good about the speaker and their circumstances.
Some are suggesting that, because Obama’s party has lost control of the Congress and the president is no longer in any danger of being held responsible for the goals he sets for himself, the president will abandon all caution in this year’s address. “With his second to last State of the Union, President Obama will be slinging a Hail Mary toward the end zone,” The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak wrote. “Sadly, no one will be there to receive it.”
For the president, there aren’t many options left. It’s late in the fourth quarter. The short game is not an option. It’s legacy time and the second-to-last-opportunity where he’s guaranteed the country’s attention.
“If the president is in that kind of position where he’s dealing with an opposing party in Congress, there’s often a wish list, pie in the sky element to [the State of the Union],” said David Greenberg, who teaches history at Rutgers University.
Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, defended the ambitiousness of Obama’s proposals—arguing that they should be seen as ideal positions rather than achievable goals.
“You never see a president standing before the Congress with just consensus proposals, all of which are pretty likely to get passed,” Shesol told The Daily Beast. “They are in most instances going to reach beyond that… It’s not his job to be just passively waiting in the Oval Office for Congress to pass bills.”
There it is. There is the admission that the president’s supporters don’t regard it Obama’s responsibility to be either grounded or realistic. They don’t care if the president’s proposals are practical. They want to hear imagination and aspiration in the State of the Union. They want their wildest dreams fulfilled by Obama’s empty promises. The president will gladly deliver.