SBC's Land 'disappointed' in Obama speech

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Obama called on Congress Wednesday in his first State of the Union speech to pass his health-care reform proposal despite its low public popularity and the recent loss of a filibuster-proof majority for his own party in the Senate.

Obama's refusal to alter his direction on health care and other issues while his party has suffered major electoral losses left Southern Baptist public policy specialist Richard Land wondering if the president has been in a "Rip Van Winkle slumber."

In his 69-minute address, the president refused to call for major revisions in the health-care bills awaiting resolution in Congress, instead urging legislators to act now "when we are so close." Obama's appeal came barely a week after Republican Scott Brown scored a stunning upset in a special election for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, giving the GOP 41 seats and eliminating the Democratic caucus' 60-seat supermajority.

"Listening to the speech, one has to wonder if he's been in a Rip Van Winkle slumber somewhere and has missed the votes in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The votes in those three states, particularly Massachusetts, can only be taken by a fair-minded observer as a rejection of the direction President Obama is seeking to lead the country. When you're seeking to lead and no one's following, you're just out for a walk."

In November, Republicans won the governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, states Obama carried in the 2008 election.

Of the problem in enacting health-care reform, the president said, "[T]his is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.

"So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed.... Don't walk away from reform," Obama told the joint session of Congress. "Not now.... Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let's get it done. Let's get it done."

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have passed health-care measures, but they have some stark differences. For instance, the Senate bill will permit federal funding for abortion, while the House legislation will not. Democratic leaders in both houses were already having little success in finding a compromise behind closed doors when Brown gained his Jan. 19 victory in the liberal stronghold of Massachusetts. The GOP victory further complicated the Democrats' efforts, with some members of the majority party saying the legislation is dead for now.

It is clear a strong majority "of the country rejects Obama-care in either its Senate or House form," Land said. "It is time for the president and the Congress to start over on health care and to address real and serious needs for true health-care reform in a broad-based, bipartisan, issue-by-issue strategy instead of trying to cram down the throats of the American people a one-size-fits-all, government takeover of one-sixth of the economy."

In addition to Obama's posture on health care and other subjects, Land took issue with the president's tone.

"I was disappointed in his speech," Land said. "It was needlessly combative and short on new solutions to deal with the excruciating problem of high unemployment."

While much of Obama's speech dealt with job creation and economic issues, he touched on at least one hot-button topic in the ongoing culture skirmish: Homosexuals in the military.

"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," the president said. "It's the right thing to do."

Not so, Land said.

"The initiative to try to do away with the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy in the military is wrong-headed and will cause serious disruption in our armed forces," Land said. "We have an all volunteer military, and it is the best in the world. I am told by Southern Baptists serving in our military anywhere from corporal to colonel that attempts to implement such a policy would lead to massive resignations from our military forces, particularly in the non-commissioned officer ranks.

"To subject our military to this kind of politically correct, social experimentation while we are engaged in two wars and face dire security threats is incomprehensible, foolish and dangerous," he said.

The current military policy law prevents homosexuals from serving openly but also prohibits military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual or about their "sexual orientation." It also protects members from being required to reveal their "sexual orientation."

[See separate Baptist Press story for a detailed look at the military policy on homosexuals.]

Land also expressed disappointment with the president's handling of Iran.

Obama said diplomacy involving Russia and other countries has "strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons."

After referring to North Korea, the president said, "That's why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt. They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise."

Though he mentioned the imposition of sanctions on North Korea, Obama made no direct reference to sanctions regarding Iran.

"Perhaps most disturbing [in the speech] was the fact the president gave so little attention to the one issue that is perhaps the most dangerous to our near-term future, in that it could involve us in a major war in coming months unless it is dealt with sufficiently -- namely the Islamic Republic of Iran and its maniacal, headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons," Land said.

The day before the State of the Union speech, Land and 45 other Christian leaders sent a letter to the Senate urging it to follow the example of the House by passing stronger sanctions on oil-related imports to Iran in order to prevent the extremist regime from developing nuclear weapons.

In the Republican response to the president's speech, new Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said his party has proposed legislation that would reform health care without increasing taxes. He said in response to the Democrats' effort, "[M]ost Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government."

Near the end of his remarks, McDonnell affirmed the pro-life cause, saying, "America must always be a land where ... innocent human life is protected."


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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