Our View: Deja vu

Posted: February 14, 2013

If that great American philosopher Yogi Berra were watching Tuesday night’s State of the Union address — and who’s to say he wasn’t — he might have summoned one of his nuggets of street-corner wisdom to describe the action in the Capitol: “It’s deja vu all over again.”

That is, if deja vu were a synonym for “increasingly hackneyed oratory.”

It could be, as reports indicate, that President Obama is breaking in a new speechwriter. Or maybe his well of liberal ideas, never deep to begin with, is totally drained. Whatever the case, his hour-long melange of warmed-over platitudes and prosaic fix-it schemes suggest an administration running on empty.

So predictable were the themes of this address that anyone remotely in the political know could have forsworn tuning in and, merely drawing on past experience, gotten the gist of Mr. Obama’s tired prescriptions and oft-repeated tropes. To wit:

 “Balanced approach.”

 The State of the Union is “stronger.”

 “A tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries” — aka the Warren Buffett reference.

 American needs “the wealthiest and most powerful” to pay their “fair share.”

 “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan” and “we can’t cut our way to prosperity” (though, presumably, we can reach that destination by borrowing more).

We’re not alone in this assessment. Fox Business anchor John Stossel observed: It’s “the same thing every year: With more spending, government can fix everything.”

Victor Davis Hanson, classics scholar cum pundit, also noticed Mr. Obama wandering down oft-trodden paths: “Fault the well-off; invest more borrowed money in more federal programs that have no demonstrable record of success; blame the bad news on others; ignore the $1 trillion-plus annual borrowing; threaten to use more executive orders; demonize the opposition . . .”

Even Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers wondered whether “basic etiquette and decency” would eventually kick in and “prevent us from ever hearing [all] this again.”

When the president was not dredging up old chestnuts, he was engaging in doubletalk. Take, for instance, this circumlocution on senior entitlements, when he declared himself “open to additional reforms . . . so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement.” That’s akin to saying, “I subscribe to reform in principle, just don’t get too specific.” How else are these programs to be made sustainable if not through substantive change?

Finally, no Obama speech would be complete without one verifiable whopper. And so on Tuesday: “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” This from a man who, four years ago, said he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. Case closed.

On Friday: We dig deeper in the State of the Union weeds and discuss specific issues and policies brought up the president.