mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
All the President's Errors
Five Important Mistakes in Obama's SOTU

1. “Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

Obama is correct that mobility has stalled, but his speech implies that this is a recent problem tied to growing inequality. But recent research suggests that America’s mobility problem is nothing new; it has been “stalled” for at least the past fifty years. It would make more sense to focus less on “inequality” and “mobility” and more on two types of poverty.

2. “The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.”

Thanks to the shale revolution, we are certainly more energy secure than we’ve been in decades. But energy security and energy independence are two very different things. Energy security is in principle attainable, but the United States can never become truly energy independent, and our politicians don’t do us any favors by talking as if this should be our goal. Read  Anne Korin and Gal Luft on “The Folly of Energy Independence” to understand why using this talking point is a mistake.

3. “We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.”

He didn’t list many concrete policy ideas in this section, but one central way the President has proposed giving colleges better incentives is his “college scorecard” idea, which ties federal aid to how well schools preform on metrics like average student loan debt and graduation rate. There’s definitely some appeal to that approach, but it also has significant weaknesses, including the fact that it could discourage colleges from accepting less gifted students. More here.

4. “Already, because of the Affordable Care Act…more than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.”

Central to the President’s ACA strategy going forward is to present the law as a settled program with  benefits that have been extended to a new class of people. But this nine million number includes those whose coverage was cancelled and had to re-up, as well as those who would have gotten Medicaid through pre-existing channels. As we noted here, it’s estimated that only 11 percent of people who have gotten new coverage so far were previously uninsured.

5. “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve—a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear…. And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled parts of that program back—for the very first time in a decade”

To really understand what’s happening in Syria, and what’s likely to happen with Iran—another topic the President brought up in his speech—Adam Garfinkle’s four-part series on U.S. Middle East policy is a must-read. (Here are parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Garfinkle points out that in Syria the verification processes for the weapons destruction process is weak, and we really don’t know how many of their weapons are going. In Iran, the deal itself actually improves the long-term prospects of an Iranian bomb.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    1. WRM and the Divider-in-Chief are wrong that upward mobility has stalled. In fact, like extreme weather events, there’s been no change for 50 years.
    2. No thanks to the Administration.
    3. Hasn’t WRM been arguing, in effect, that to many unqualified individuals go to college?
    4. Let’s wait and see how many of that nine million actually pay a premium, how many already had insurance and switched for a subsidy, the demographics of those who actually enroll (pay their premium), etc.
    5. As WRM points out, American “diplomacy” in the mid-East has been a complete and utter catastrophe for all concerned.

  • rheddles

    There was only one mistake. Obama was the one giving the SOTU. The American people have only themselves to blame.

    • Corlyss

      I like to think of it as “the American voters have a lot to account for.” 🙂

      • Andrew Allison

        Well, about half of them anyway. ;<)}

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service