The State Of The Union

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 28, 2010

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My take for the New Ledger, along with a teaser:

It is difficult to catalog just how many contradictions there were in the President’s State of the Union address. A President calling for bipartisanship and an end to the permanent campaign gave a speech that was–in tone and in substance–a campaign speech. A President calling for unity gave a speech that practically cried out “all the bad stuff that happened was George W. Bush’s fault!”. A President calling for a renewal of national purpose spent large amounts of time playing class warfare games, and seeking to turn Americans against Wall Street. That latter activity is an easy one to engage in. But just because something is easy, does not make it right.

Read it all. As I mention in my piece, there were certain things the President called for that I agreed with, one of which being his call to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” On this issue, the President is quite right, and is call to end the policy is well-taken.

Unfortunately, concerning some other statements in his address, the President was quite wrong. It is good to see that the press is calling him out for these errors, though it should not wait for a State of the Union address to point out that the standard Obama stump speech can, at times, mislead. Speaking of Presidential errors, this from Linda Greenhouse–no right-winger, she–concerning the President’s attempted admonishment of the Supreme Court over the Citizens United ruling, is certainly worth noting:

. . . Justice Alito shook his head as if to rebut the president’s characterization of the Citizens United decision, and seemed to mouth the words “not true.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s description of the holding of the case was imprecise. He said the court had “reversed a century of law.”

The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions.

As noted in my own take on the State of the Union address, there are plenty of other critiques of the President’s commentary concerning the Citizens United case out there as well. One would think that the Administration would be embarrassed about misrepresenting a Supreme Court case so profoundly, especially given that the President was a former law lecturer at a prestigious law school. Surely, he knows better than he pretends to in public. Right?

UPDATE: Much talk about trade policy in the State of the Union. I’d like to think that the President will be able to deliver on his promises, since trade policy has turned especially antediluvian in this Administration. Unfortunately, we are not likely to see improvement on this front.

ANOTHER UPDATE: As Ilya Somin notes, in making his economic arguments, President Obama needs to set up strawmen to knock down.

AND AGAIN: Proving that being correct is not nearly as important to him as being slavishly loyal to the President, Andrew Sullivan positstwice–via the titling of his posts, that Justice Alito “be[came] partisan” by visibly disagreeing with President Obama’s characterization of the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. As though the Justices are obliged to sit stone-faced while the President misrepresents their work. I suppose that one could respond by stating that pointing out the facts to the President of the United States does not make one a “partisan,” but apt as the response may be, it would be lost on Sullivan.

  • robspe

    I know of no evidence that Obama is a legal scholar or authority or, indeed, that he knows much of anything about legal thought or history. Wasn't he merely a once-a-week adjunct at U of Chicago Law? To my mind he's an ignorant, lazy bully who skated through school, probably on the efforts of others, and pushed his way into the Presidency on the basis of the color of his skin, his conformity to leftist tripe and his speaking voice.

  • robspe

    I know of no evidence that Obama is a legal scholar or authority or, indeed, that he knows much of anything about legal thought or history. Wasn't he merely a once-a-week adjunct at U of Chicago Law? To my mind he's an ignorant, lazy bully who skated through school, probably on the efforts of others, and pushed his way into the Presidency on the basis of the color of his skin, his conformity to leftist tripe and his speaking voice.

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