When I voted for President Obama the first time he ran for president, I did it for a few reasons: I viewed him as a potential transitional leader; his campaign oratory showed me he’s capable of using the bully pulpit for good; and, I could not vote for a ticket that included Sarah Palin. The first two were the more important factors.
President Obama has demonstrated that he does not know how to use the bully pulpit well. And his staff knows even less.
Last night’s State of the Union was a petulant boy saying, “If you won’t help me, I’ll do it myself.” Bold words but the fact is the president does not have sufficient power on his own to take strong actions across the board when it comes to domestic policy. His “my way or the highway” threat I’m sure will be used well on the mid-term campaign trail. They now can even more blame the opposition for blocking his every whim (even though there’s a lot of truth to that). And that seems to be the primary goal: political advantage.
That is not a president’s job. That may be the national party chairman’s job, but not the president’s.
The President’s job is to lead. Not to convene commissions for show sake. Not to name his Vice President to yet another coordinating task that likely will lead nowhere. Not to announce a vague program aimed at helping lower income folks save money they don't have in the first place because they have no jobs in this weak economy. And our democracy was not established so a president could govern (rule) by presidential fiat. If I remember correctly, that’s one reason this country was created originally – to escape a King’s fiat.
Yes, there is a time that executive orders are appropriate. Many presidents have pulled that arrow out of their quivers. But you can’t affect an economy that way. Heck, there isn’t much, truth be told, the government can do to turn an economy. But it can help establish an environment that sends a message of: We can work together. We can improve things. We’re with you. That’s what gives business – small and large--, investors and the average citizen confidence in their government which turns into confidence in the economy. A lot of a strong economy is believing the economy is strong.
Unemployment going down because people have stopped looking for jobs is not economic improvement. And while there clearly is a wage gap between men and women, as the Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, points out this morning, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics the President used may be less reliable for examining wage discrimination because the President used an hourly wage comparison.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gap between men and women is 19 cents when weekly wages are compared and 15 cents when hourly wages are compared. Not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so the statistic excludes weekly salaried employees. And since there are statistics available to prove most every point, there is a another study, by the Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis, that says “research suggests that the actual gender wage gap (when female workers are compared with male workers who have similar characteristics) is much lower than the raw wage gap." They cite a survey prepared by the Labor Department that says when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar. All that according to Mr. Kessler.
So the President’s rhetoric, as intended, won strong applause from the (Democratic elected) women in his audience last night, the facts are a little different.
Bottom line: this State of the Union address, like many others before it, from both parties, wasn’t all that moving, or inspiring. Personally, I think after last year’s government shutdown – stupidly engineered by a minority of Republicans in Congress, failed – there was an opportunity for the president who, unlike Members of Congress, is elected by ALL the people, to step up and lead. To rally the public around him. Not rally his supporters, but rally everyone.
That’s what a president is supposed to do.