This speech helps cement Barack Obama’s image as one of the most divisive figures in American politics. Instead of addressing the arguments offered by his political adversaries, he attacked imaginary critics as if in a campaign stump speech. At the same time, he pretended to extend an olive branch to Republicans and other opponents of his plan.
The essential contradiction of the speech was its excess of attack amidst please for conciliation. There was no need for him to repeat the left-wing canard about “the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.” Such language, dishonest and more appropriate to the campaign trail than in a presidential address, only serves to divide. (Reading the speech, I found more such examples of such divisive campaign rhetoric.)
It wasn’t just in dredging up old political battles where he was divisive. He also demonized his opponents by using his well-worn tactic of creating straw men, suggested that those who opposed him were the adversaries of his imagination. “Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost.” Many (if not most) of his adversaries don’t want to kill reform, they just favor different (and less costly) reforms.
Instead of such harsh rhetoric, he would hae done better to say something like, “I understand people’s concerns” and explained his plan would better serve our common goals than those Republicans have put forward (and waved frequently during the address).
And then there was the question of cost. To claim that a program that “will cost around $900 billion over 10 years. . . will not add to our deficit” is simply ludicrous. He may have gotten away with such claims before he took office, but with his own officials acknowledging recently last month that his policies will add an addition $2 trillion to the deficit (despite previous claims that they wouldn’t be so costly), only the most committed partisans will believe him now.