What really is the state of America now?

President Obama’s final SOTU was a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ snapshot.

Starting with the political theater of the whole thing. Which is embarrassing for everyone.

Political commentator Ed Morrissey saw it as “a parody of monarchical excess“, altogether unnecessary and irrelevant. Right. Return to the Jeffersonian practice of sending in a report and save us all from the “droning, laundry-list campaign speeches of grand spectacle, but very little import.”

Fact-checkers looked at the speech on paper, and laid out a list of claims the president got wrong.

Bill McGurn had keen foresight of the single visual that would capture what the president got wrong, even before he arrived to great fanfare or spoke, because

a White House teaser reveals one of his planned props for the evening: “We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”

Every time I think this president can’t outdo his audacity, he does. He recently held an emotional press conference to announce executive action on gun violence, choked up over the innocent children gunned down senselessly. Where has this emotion been for the past seven years of his presidency while in his and my hometown, innocent children, women, men, grandparents, teens, promising youth have been shot and killed in gun violence every single day on the south side of Chicago, the very familiar territory of his early days as a community organizer and fledgling politician? Even some community leaders there who hold rallies have called out the president for his lack of presence or voice on this most notorious of neighborhood turf wars by street gangs, year in and year out. I recall once when he virtually phoned in a message to be delivered at the rally, delivered by proxy. Why seven years of the bully pulpit not directed to that, to them, to promising young lives snuffed out by guns and gangs? Only to have the final SOTU address gun violence with an empty chair, for the missing?

How symbolic, McGurn continues.

The spectacle is made for President Obama. After all, this is the man who strode out on a stage of foam Greek columns when he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. How appropriate that in his last State of the Union he now opts for the empty chair routine used to such derision by Clint Eastwood at the last Republican National Convention.

Then again, for Mr. Obama the maneuver has always been the message. From his 2008 campaign appearance before the Berlin Wall (where he declared himself “a fellow citizen of the world”) to his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize before he had in fact done anything, the stage has always upstaged the substance. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s penchant for the beau geste carries a high price for Americans, not to mention other, less fortunate citizens of the world.

Start with foreign policy. Though Candidate Obama inveighed mightily against the U.S. intervention in Iraq, he also campaigned on the idea that Iraq had distracted us from winning “the necessary war” in Afghanistan. When he announced to the American people his own surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, the cadets at West Point were drafted to serve as the dramatic backdrop.

Today we can see the same speech shows that more important to him than winning this war was the withdrawal date he tucked in the next sentence. Later his own defense secretary, Robert Gates, would record in his memoir how he came to the conclusion that his boss “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” Meanwhile, Americans in uniform would continue to die for this strategy.

The painful truth.

The domestic side has also been decided by high theater. When Mr. Obama was first elected, such was his popularity (and the low standing of the GOP), he could have done almost anything. On cue he opted for what he called “the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history,” an $800 billion stimulus that never did stimulate.

ObamaCare followed a year later. Notwithstanding lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses, Mr. Obama still had trouble getting his signature issue through. A more modest president might have found ways to address the problem—i.e., the millions of Americans who could not afford health insurance—without upending the entire market…

This has been the steady fare of the Obama years. Overseas his insistence on the grand gesture has led the president to pretend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan means we’re no longer at war. This may be popular in the faculty lounge, but in the real world Islamic State beheads Americans, Afghanistan teeters on chaos and Iraqi cities such as Ramadi, liberated from al Qaeda in the original surge, now have to be re-liberated all over again from Islamic State.

At home the president’s Big Ideas (unintended consequences be damned) have seen millions of citizens losing the health-care plans the president promised them they could keep, a record number of Americans giving up on work, and an anemic growth rate of 2%.

The gimmick Mr. Obama has now chosen for his final State of the Union, meant to highlight his end run around the Second Amendment, is fully consistent with this past. But seven years in, an empty chair in the first lady’s box only reinforces images of an empty suit at the podium.

And one more thing, the one thing that got to me more than any other, and there were plenty of others. It was the moment I talked back to the TV, the galling moment when he lectured us all once again, and this time, once too often. Columnist Stephen Hayes had the exact same reaction I did, and expressed it on television in a panel roundup following the speech.

Hayes told Bret Baier he found it a little unbelievable that the president devoted a whole section of his speech to lamenting our broken politics and calling for civility.

Bingo. A jaw-dropper. He was lecturing us on civility.

He brought up a White House advisor comparing the GOP’s fight on the budget to “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” Obama himself saying Iranian hardliners have “common cause” with the GOP, and the president saying Republican candidates are “doing the work of the terrorists.”

“And now this guy’s gonna lecture us about civility?!” Hayes bewilderedly cried. “The president––it’s not just that he misdiagnoses the problem, the fact that there is this incivility… it’s that he doesn’t understand he’s the cause of so much incivility in our politics!”

There it is. That was the moment when I said the same thing to the television. Our country is more fractured, splintered, divided, intolerant, angry, hostile and uncivil now than it was before he came into office, or so it seems. The president who has used his office in a very unpresidential way, beneath the dignity of the Office of the President, to target for criticism political ‘enemies’, a whole cable news network, particular reporters, the party opposing his party and politics, citizens who hold certain beliefs he opposes, his predecessor, police officers in certain locales, religious groups and others, now lecturing us on incivility in our country, was just too much.

The state of America is actually better than that, but it’s up to Americans to prove it now.

How’s life in the US?

What irony that the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the March for Life, and the State of the Union all fall in the same week.

It all goes together.

The Constitution requires that the president “reports on the condition of the nation”. The Constitution, in the Fourteenth Amendment, provides the due process clause that Justice Harry Blackmun and the Roe court tortured into a previously unimaginable configuration that stretched the right to privacy into the ‘right’ to abortion. And the Declaration of Independence defined certain rights, especially the “sweeping statement”…that has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language” and “the most potent and consequential words in American history”.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So, how is the state of the union at this point? When the first unalienable right is rescinded by the Supreme Court, and state’s rights to protect it are nullified? When the political party that stands for abortion ‘rights’ is headed by the president who stands on Monday for the protection of abortion rights and on Tuesday in the well of Congress delivering a spectacularly staged and showy speech filled with great clouds of words that included this:

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.

Not anymore. Because abortion policy denies the fundamental right to life, without which other rights have no coherent meaning.

Mother Teresa knew the state of this union better than the politicians who run it, and she stated it in fewer words with more clarity than most of them can.

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men.

It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts — a child — as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters”…

Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”

So at the end of the day….at the end of the week….we’ve heard virtually nothing from big, secular media about the anniversary of Roe and he massive, impressive and largely youthful March for Life. We’ve heard little else but partisan politics and the SOTU address and President Obama’s theme: Win the Future.

What irony. How can we plan to win the future when we can’t guarantee that there will be one for all human beings?

President’s SOTU show prep

In radio, we do a lot of show prep, researching relevant materials on the topics and guests we’ll be covering on a particular program, and sometimes that requires a sweeping review of wide-ranging resources to pluck the gems and see the greater picture.

That thought occurred to me when I saw Rocco Palmo’s post about the USCCB President’s state of the union letter, in advance of the US president’s address. I could have linked directly to it on the USCCB site. But it benefits from this buildup.

It might be another week until President Obama ascends the rostrum of the House chamber to deliver his “State of the Union” address, but in a letter dated Thursday, the new president of the US bishops, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York, continued his predecessor’s tradition of outlining in depth the bench’s policy priorities and areas of concern to the members of the 112th Congress.

Lest anyone needed reminding, the US’ roughly 68 million Catholics comprise, by far, the nation’s largest religious body.

And that is followed by the the full text of Dolan’s letter. Which is also here. Must reading for a faithfully engaged electorate.

But back to Whispers for this

(At the same time, with the House taking up its new Republican majority’s long-pledged debate and vote on the repeal of the health-care reform package passed and signed into law last year, the following letter, dated today, was sent to its 435 members from the conference’s three key chairs on the health-care debate: the Pro-Life chair Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; the Migration chair, Los Angeles Coadjutor-Archbishop José Gomez, and the Domestic Policy chair, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton)

Members of Congress acknowledge the role of the bishops of pointing out “certain fundamental moral parameters” in creating law and social policy. Altogether, this is richly resourceful for President Obama as he prepares for the SOTU. I know how much I appreciate strong show prep before addressing important matters.

‘The State of the Union has degenerated’

CNN photo

CNN photo

The Supreme Court being a usually quietly deliberative body, couldn’t exactly hold press conferences after President Obama made unprecedented (and unpresidential) remarks harshly rebuking the High Court in Obama’s last SOTU address. The most we got was a camera shot of Justice Samuel Alito silently shaking his head and mouthing the words ‘not true’. But now, after due diligence, Chief Justice Roberts is talking, and taking Obama to task.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told law students Tuesday that he found it “very troubling” to be surrounded by loudly cheering critics at President Obama’s State of the Union address, saying it was reason enough for the justices not to attend the annual speech to Congress.

“To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we are there,” Roberts said at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Two good points right there. Decorum and protocol are not being followed by this president and this White House. But the justice still hold to theirs, leaving them sitting silently watching and listening to members of Congress stand and cheer and holler in tasteless partisan support of Obama’s undignified swipe at the court.

The White House reportedly responded to Chief Justice Roberts’ remarks. But they really didn’t. 

The White House fired back Tuesday night with a statement that did not address the substance of Roberts’s comments but with another broadside at the court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. Press secretary Robert Gibbs accused the court of opening “the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections — drowning out the voices of average Americans.”


The quick response by the White House to Roberts’s comments was striking.

The nature of it…par for the course. It seemed we didn’t get the change promised when this president ran as a candidate for office, since Washington has been as bitter and divided as ever. But it’s worse than ‘politics as usual’ when the president dressed down the Supreme Court in such a stately and historical setting.

Roberts commented that the whole process of seating justices on the court these days is broken. 

Roberts also took issue with the Senate’s confirmation process for judges and justices, saying it is contentious and unproductive.

“I think the process is broken down,” he said. “The only people who can change it are the senators. I hope they do.”

Not looking good with this particular class. They’re the ones – at least of the majority party – who constituted the pep rally razzing the justices. The only people who can change that are the voters.