The state of our union

There was a time when I treated a State of the Union address like a national holiday. I used to gather my friends together, host a watch party, get some pizza and excitedly hang on every word uttered by the president.

Slowly, though, the shine wore off, and the event became less a fun event and more of a chore. I still watch, but the speech can barely hold my attention any more.

I’m not sure what happened. I wasn’t naive when I used to love watching them. I knew they were mostly fluff and that anything resembling substance in the speech was unlikely to ever see the light of day.

But they were still compelling and enjoyable, and it really didn’t matter who was giving the speech. I enjoyed watching both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as the elder George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, though I was younger in those years.

I used to think it was simply the fact that I started to work professionally in politics, and overexposure to the game had robbed what used to be special of all its magic.

I used to think it was just the growing political cynicism that has come with both being older and living through particularly dysfunctional times where trust in government continually wanes.

But not any more. I wonder if it isn’t just the increasingly vapid nonsense being passed off as content in a major speech. I wonder if it isn’t just that much more aggravatingly “substanceless” to listen to.

Yes, presidents have always spoken in vague terms and offered broad generalities that border on the absence of anything. But, in the past, at the very least we could expect a president to outline a problem and offer a simple solution that the country would then agree and disagree with.

But after watching the president address the American people Tuesday night, I’m not hearing that any more. I’m hearing a lack of any fundamental problems being identified to face and certainly nothing resembling a real answer to those problems.

Take, for instance, the section of the president’s speech that dealt with homeownership and mortgages. Fewer people are buying homes, and the president blames lenders for being too restrictive. He believes that middle class people aren’t buying homes because good people with plenty of money are being denied loans.

As somebody firmly planted in America’s middle-class, that is most certainly not the reason I do not currently own a home.

What prevents me from purchasing a home is the insane cost of living that eats up my salary, making it impossible to come up with a solid base of savings. I make a good deal of money, but rent, student loans, utilities, gas, car payments and everything else I pay for make it hard to save. Until and unless I move into the president’s supposedly “wealthy” tax bracket, I simply can’t afford it.

Yet, once I am there, the additional income I will earn that would allow me to save more will be confiscated at an even higher rate, which will make it even more difficult for me to save anything.

Attempting to use the power of the government to force lenders to lend money to people they don’t deem creditworthy is not going to make my life any better. In fact, it will only encourage people like me to obtain loans for homes we can’t afford, which is the very thing that got us into the economic crisis in the first place.

So the president doesn’t seem to have any grasp on the lives of the people he is commenting on, which is ironic given the nature of his campaign against Mitt Romney.

That was hardly the only example of cluelessness in the speech. The president used the death of a young person from Chicago to argue that more restrictions on firearms are necessary to prevent such crimes in the future.

This, despite the fact that the city of Chicago has among the most restrictive gun regulations in the country.

It didn’t matter the subject, the president said essentially nothing the entire night, and the woeful ignorance of the source of the problems he proposes to fix has become too frustrating to enjoy listening to any more.

At least when I disagreed with Clinton’s State of the Union addresses, I felt like he understood the challenges facing America. I simply disagreed with his solutions. Now, I have no such confidence, and that has robbed me of any joy in watching this yearly spectacle.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.