The USA and the world are generally pretty swell right now. Don't believe it? Then you didn't listen closely to President Obama's final State of the Union address this week.
The commander-in-chief assured us that the economy is purring, the United States is more powerful than ever, and the people should be content. It makes you wonder whether the president ever sees those polls showing that two-thirds of Americans feel the country is on the wrong track.
If he did, he would probably blame talk radio, Fox News, Republicans, and other 'nattering nabobs of negativism,' that famous phrase written for Vice President Spiro Agnew by wordsmith William Safire.
Just to be clear, Mr. Obama is correct when he says the United States remains 'the most powerful nation on earth.' Of course it is, but the USA has become less powerful under his watch. ISIS continues to sow panic and shed blood across large swaths of the Middle East and North Africa, while China and Russia and Iran thumb their collective noses in our direction.
Senator John McCain, who could have been presenting his final State of the Union address had he won in 2008, appeared on The Factor and accused the president of harboring an 'almost pathological denial.' McCain, who knows a thing or two about wars and turmoil, lamented that there are more crises and refugees than at any time since World War II. So who you gonna' believe, President Obama? Or Senator McCain and your lyin' eyes?
The president is also right on the money, so to speak, when he points to a low unemployment rate. But he ignores the fact that so many Americans have dropped out of the work force, while those who are working know they're getting hammered every time they open that paycheck. About half of U.S. workers make $30,000 a year or less. It's bad news for them, their families, and the political establishment, good news for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
One word conspicuously absent from Tuesday's speech was 'debt.' As in the $19-trillion of debt the federal government has taken on, most of it amassed during President Obama's tenure. For a little perspective, every single day our national debt rises by about the same amount as that winning Powerball jackpot.
Sending your kids to college costs far more, health care costs far more, food prices are up, wages are stagnant. That is simply not a recipe for prosperity, Mr. President, nothing about which to boast. Sure, the price of gas has nosedived, helping average Americans immensely. But we all know that President Obama would actually prefer gas to be more expensive. Because, you know, climate change.
It's been seven years since President Barack Obama soared into office, riding a crest of good will and high hopes. Seems like a few decades ago, doesn't it? We have now reached the point where Joe Biden is being assigned to cure cancer. Old Joe better hurry, he only has one year left.
President Obama is not a man given to regrets. He has, as our friendly former psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer points out, a rather lofty self-regard. But on Tuesday night the president did lament his failure to bridge the political divide. That came right after he ridiculed anyone who disagrees with him on climate change or Islamic terror or education or spending or just about anything else.
We all want 'better politics,' as you put it, Mr. President. But that comes from talking to the other side, searching for common ground, and solving problems. It doesn't come from dismissing and demonizing those with whom you disagree.
No question, President Obama can still give a pretty good speech. And his acolytes still see him as a near-deity taking on the malevolent forces of evil. But most Americans are sorely disappointed. We wanted so much more, Mr. President. To borrow from Terry Malloy in 'On the Waterfront,' you could have been a contender.
Our next president needs to focus on problem-solving, not ideology and speech-giving, from day one. On January 20, 2017, we will thank Barack Obama for his service and his efforts. But most of us will look back with regret. Sad.