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George F. Will: A night of nonsense

Published: February 17, 2013
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Except for Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, who stayed away. They missed a clunker of a speech, although the tedium was not much worse than usual, and was redeemed by clarifying three things.

First, Obama's declaration that nothing in his long list of proposed spending “should” — should? — “increase our deficit by a single dime” means there should be commensurate tax increases. Second, now that he has proclaimed that government “must keep the promises we've already made,” only the uneducable can still believe he will consider entitlement reforms. Third, by saying spending cuts under the sequester would be “harsh” and would “devastate” domestic programs, he made applesauce of those two words: The cuts would remove only $85 billion from this year's almost $3.6 trillion budget, and over a decade they would cut just $1.2 trillion from projected spending of $46 trillion. And spending this year would still be well above the post-1945 norm as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Although Obama is a self-proclaimed respecter of science, he does not stoop to empiricism. Understandably. Data are unkind to his assertion that climate change is causing storms to become more severe and drought to become more prevalent. Measured by “accumulated cyclone energy,” hurricane and other tropical cyclone activity is at a three-decade low, and Nature journal reports that globally “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.”

Wilson's stroke prevented him from delivering the State of the Union orally in 1919 and 1920, but Warren Harding, not known for a strong sense of propriety, continued the deplorable practice in 1921 and 1922. Calvin Coolidge did so in 1923, four months after becoming president, but not a second time. Wilson's practice was, however, made the norm by the man who had first come to Washington as Wilson's assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt.

State of the Union addresses are now integral to the apotheosis of the presidency. If government is going to be omniprovident, modern presidents are going to be omnipresent, and politics is going to be infantile.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP