State of the Union Address and Rebuttal: A Clear Choice
President Barack Obama's State of the Union address was light on foreign policy while Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel's rebuttal omitted the issue entirely.
Both the Democrats and Republicans realize that the 2012 presidential election will be contested on domestic policy.
Obama took credit for withdrawing American troops from Iraq and for the start of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He tried to surround it with a sense of triumphalism, giving a pat on the back to the Armed Forces.
He also took credit for the imminent demise of the Assad regime, although his administration had initially tried to engage it.
On domestic issues, two contrasting approaches emerged. Obama, aside from the ritual references about cutting red tape, views the federal government as the ultimate protector of America's citizens. It was the American government that preserved and nurtured the automobile industry. The American government ,via taxation policy, will penalize companies that outsource jobs and reward companies that bring jobs back. It will give an even bigger boost to high-tech industries and environmentally friendly ones.
The federal government will protect the United States against unfair trade practices by countries such as China. Obama announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit.
The federal government will ensure quality education and make attendance through high school mandatory. At the same time it will protect Americans from spiraling tuition costs and higher education by penalizing universities that hike tuition costs to an unbearable extent.
The federal government will protect its citizens from the financial institutions, be it the banks who offered mortgages that could not be repaid or credit card companies that encouraged irresponsible borrowing. These institutions, rather than people who live beyond their means and eschew thrift, will be held responsible.
Given all its missions and responsibilities, the government requires more income. That income can only come from increased and more equitable taxation. Obama believes that millionaires must be in the 30% tax bracket.
Fortuitously for Obama, Mitt Romney disclosed his tax returns revealing that he paid 15% on a multimillion dollar income. It was necessary to support the 98% against the 2%
If you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.
The Republican approach, as enunciated by Mitch Daniels ,views government as a problem rather than the solution. Perhaps the most important line in the Daniels speech was his reference to "the president's grand experiment in trickle-down government."
Here, Daniels attempted cleverly to turn an argument by the economic left against it. The left denounces trickle-down economics according to which if you allow people to get rich, everybody will eventually receive crumbs off the table. Daniels claims that a rich government that "spends one of every $4 in the entire economy" is not going to make the people richer, but plunge the United States into the same situation as "Greece, Spain and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe."
If Obama claims credit for saving the auto industry, Daniels reminds him of "all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew."
Obama claims that energy production surged under his leadership. Daniels claimed that if energy made progress, it was despite the obstacles that Obama posed by caving in to his environmentalist supporters - and most recently, by blocking the Keystone Pipeline.
"The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy.
Responding to the populist Obama thrust, pitting the wealthy 2% against the 98%, Daniels argued that the burden on the wealthy should be felt in entitlements rather than in taxation. The government, instead of taking more from the wealthy, should give them less - for example, in reform of the Social Security and Medicare system
The dumb way is to raise rates in a broken, grossly complex tax system, choking off growth without bringing in the revenues we need to meet our debts. The better course is to stop sending the wealthy benefits they do not need
Daniels contended that the concept of the government as protector had gone overboard:
In word and deed, the President and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb.
The State of Union address and the Republican rebuttal have presented a clear choice to the American voter.
The writer is a political scientist who is Arutz Sheva's Global Agenda analyst. He is featured regularly in the Hebrew press, including BeSheva and in the Jerusalem Report.