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The State of the Union is Frustrating

The President's first State of the Union address disappointed some conservative advocacy groups who hoped he would strike a bipartisan tone.

Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.

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Conservative advocacy groups criticized President Obama's State of the Union address for shirking responsibility and placing blame for the country's current situation on former President Bush.

Obama's speech was "one of the worst State of the Union addresses in modern times," said former Bush aide Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

"The speech was defensive and petulant," Wehner wrote. "What was on display last night was a man of unsurpassed self-righteousness engaged in constant self-justification."

Tasha Easterling of the American Family Association and Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, wrote that Obama's speech shifted blame to the previous President rather than taking responsibility, and contained few concrete goals for the future.

Crouse argued that the speech was unbelievable from a woman's perspective.

"Most women listen carefully when a man dishes out flowery promises," she said. "Most have learned from bitter experience not to fall for vague promises. Instead, they look for the particulars, and most importantly, they look at a man's actions."

Pat Robertson and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition agreed that the President's words were empty.

"What the President said is just more of the same. It's just a lot of talk,"Robertson said on Thursday's 700 Club. "He was young and inexperienced and it shows."

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was particularly concerned with Obama's call for an increase in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and for the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, calling them moves "to socialize child care, sexualize the military, and penalize married couples through a government takeover of the U.S. health care system."

Connie Mackey of Family Research Council Action said there was little the President could have said to make up for a year of efforts "to shove socialism down the collective American throat all in his first year of his presidency." Mackey found the speech unnerving: "He never fails to send a shiver down my back with his boldfaced ability to stretch the truth, shall we say? Where was Joe Wilson when we needed him this year?"

Moving Forward on Health Care

Not all advocacy groups took issue with the State of the Union, though. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, agreed with the President's focus on job creation and called for a continued push for health care reform.

Wallis, along with several other evangelicals, even signed a Faith in Public Life letter asking the President to press forward with health care reform. Other signatories included author and speaker Tony Campolo, pastor Joel Hunter, pastor Brian McLaren, and Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action.

"Lawmakers are closer than ever before to passing this critically needed legislation. Letting this life-line lapse for so many Americans now would be a failure of historic proportions," the letter reads. "We will keep focused on helping the vulnerable until this job is done; we will support you and all our political leaders who will finish what you have started."

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice strongly disagreed with the call for a health care emphasis. He said that the President ignored the fact that most Americans disapprove of the current bill; they want reform, but with minimal government involvement.

"The American people understand that 'health care reform' in Washington means nothing more than government-controlled health care—and with the Senate-passed bill—using federal taxpayer dollars to fund abortion," Sekulow said.

Calling Out the Court

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court gave an historic ruling on campaign finance reform. As CT reported earlier, political groups including Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America praised the ruling as a victory for free speech. 

President Obama, however, agreed with groups like Sojourners that the decision would increase the influence of money on politics.

During his address, Obama made the unusual (and controversial) decision to directly refer to members of the Supreme Court, who were sitting atthe front of the chamber.

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. "I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."

Justice Samuel Alito, who was part of the majority on the campaign finance ruling, appeared to say "not true" as the President spoke, possibly in response to the claim that foreign corporations would be able to spend money in campaigns.

Bruce Hausknecht of Focus on the Family Action considered Obama's speech inappropriate, calling it an "unseemly" condemnation that "degraded the office of President."

Hausknecht's colleague Jenny Tyree drew a connection between Representative Joe Wilson's (R-SC) breach of decorum during a joint session last year and Obama's statement.

"The President had the floor and could have responded when ol' Joe Wilson's 'You lie!' outburst interrupted the President's last speech in this venue," Tyree said. "In contrast, the President's premeditated remarks directed at five individual justices misused the bully pulpit for inappropriate chastisement of his branch co-equals."

Tasha Easterling of the AFA defended Alito's reaction, saying "it didn't rise to the level of the 'You lie!' outburst from Rep. Joe Wilson the last time Obama addressed Congress."

Odds and Ends

The New Evangelical Partnership

Three progressive evangelicals formed a new effort called the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP). Richard Cizik, former vice president of governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, David Gushee, founder and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights (an effort that will now be merged into the NEP), and Steven Martin, pastor and documentary filmmaker will focus on human rights, peacemaking, reducing abortions, environmentalism, health care, strengthening families, the human rights of gays and lesbians, economic justice, and religious liberty.

The NEP made headlines last week for its advocacy for debt relief for Haiti. The NEP petition is calling on"the world community to do what we believe it is already motivated to do: give a strong, long-term boost to Haiti's redevelopment by forgiving its remaining debt and making all future aid in the form of grants, not loans."

Over 100 Radicals

The Liberty Counsel released a report listing the nominations and appointments of President Obama. This report "documents the beliefs, words and actions of more than 100 radicals that Obama has hand-picked to 'change' our nation … These nominations are neither moderate nor merely left of center. They can best be described as radical. They are clearly out of touch with all but a radical fringe. Obama's pattern of choosing radical ideologues raises serious concern about the competency of the government."

Superbowl Ads

Focus on the Family is planning on airing an ad during the Super Bowl that will feature Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother, who chose not to abort Tim despite the advice of her doctors. 

AFA's Easterling praised CBS for airing the ad, saying the Focus ad was "responsibly produced."

AFA also objected to another possible ad for a gay men's online dating service.

Virtual March for Life

The Family Research Council held a webcast for "Blogs for Life," a conference for pro-life bloggers, last week before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. For those who could not participate in the annual March for Life, there were two opportunities to participate online. Those who wanted to march could create a pro-life avatar for the Virtual March for Life that could march with over 83,000 other virtual characters including Jim Dobson, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee. 

Tobin Grant is an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and director of the Tracking American Evangelical Politics project.

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site. Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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