President Barack Obama’s second State of the Union Address was almost entirely focused on domestic issues.  This was appropriate, considering the magnitude of social, economic, and moral problems America is facing, and the attendant impossibility of pursuing grand global themes for as long as those problems remain unresolved.  His proposals for resolving them are surprisingly mainstream.  Two years after being inaugurated as the “first black president,” Obama knows that his core constituency can be ignored; it has nowhere else to go.  His speech was addressed to those not normally well disposed: the business community and the white salariat.

Obama used rising stock values and corporate profits, rather than employment figures or wages, to claim that an economic recovery is under way.  His hint that U.S. workers should be prepared to compete with their Chinese or Indian counterparts would have been deemed outrageous, had it come from a Wall Street banker or a Wall Street Journal editorialist.  With the promise of lowering the corporate tax rate, of facilitating the passage of free-trade legislation and loosening regulatory controls, Obama spoke like an MBA from Kellogg rather than a community organizer from Chicago’s South Side.  Even his “Sputnik Moment” was a hat tip to state-sponsored excellence, rather than a plea for egalitarian-minded intervention.

On social issues some of Obama’s words could have come straight from the pages of Chronicles.  Family responsibility begins “in our homes and communities”: “It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.”

On foreign affairs Obama did not give us any of his predecessor’s neocon-infested world-historical drivel.  (President Bush in 2002: “History has called America and our allies to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight . . . America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity . . . We’ve come to know truths that we will never question: Evil is real, and it must be opposed.”)  What we have instead is a Chief Executive reluctant to engage in foreign dragon slaying.  An inoffensive Latin American tour is being planned, which is exactly the sort of stuff a president should do when he decides to do nothing.

Obama mentioned the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan but steered clear of the old caveat about “getting the job done.”  That both Iraq and Afghanistan will revert to their nasty and brutish Hobbesian-Mohammedan ways once the last G.I. departs is obvious.  Judging by his speech, Obama knows this.  His en passant pledge that the United States “stands with the people of Tunisia” is reassuringly meaningless: Presumably, the “standing” will continue regardless of whether the Islamists take over, which is likely, or the country turns into a beacon of Western-style democracy.  What he will do if the Muslim Brotherhood replaces Mubarak in Egypt remains to be seen.  Judging by this speech, he’ll do nothing in particular, and he’ll do it very well, indeed.

The lack of a single word about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the State of the Union is excellent news.  Over the next year or two Washington should leave Israel and her Arab neighbors to their own devices.  We are further away from a comprehensive settlement than at any other time since Oslo two decades ago.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is not in a mood to offer anything to the Palestinians, and they are not in a position to insist on anything.  The Arab-Israeli war will end when both sides grow weary of it and conclude that their interests would be better served at the negotiating table, with the outcome of such negotiations reflecting the balance of power between them.  Since the parties in the dispute are unable or unwilling to do so today, Obama is right to stay aloof.  When both sides are ready to make peace, the news should be heralded in the State of the Union Address.  This was not such an occasion.

Iran and North Korea were mentioned only briefly, which is also excellent news.  With regard to Iran, the neocons have tried to impose their agenda on a reluctant President.  Judging by his perfunctory reference to the issue, they have not succeeded.  As for North Korea, American disengagement from the peninsula is long overdue.  The best and safest way to accomplish it is to leave the tactical and short-range nuclear arsenal behind, thus enabling South Korea to deal with Comrade Kim on her own.  Obama may not subscribe to this view, but by wisely ignoring Pyongyang he has at least allowed for the possibility that he does.

Perhaps the only ideologically disquieting note in Obama’s speech was his millenarian phrase “winning the future.”  The future is not there to be won or lost.  Those who believe otherwise end up singing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and slaughtering millions.  Obama is not in that league.  On other fronts he is a failure and a menace, but on world affairs he is the least-bad President we’ve had for a generation.

The State of the Union Address was the President’s attempt to present himself as a consensus politician whose agenda is not driven by ideology but by pragmatic concerns that transcend class, race, or political affiliation.  Devoid of identity politics, the text should be seen as an indication of his likely reelection strategy in 2012.  False?  Devious?  Of course: Barack Hussein Obama is a politician.