Will President Obama's last State Of The Union address be his version of a goal-setting strategy session, or of a victory lap? Shore Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3) has high expectations that he isn't sure will be met.

Rep. Tom MacArthur in his Ocean County District Office (Townsquare Media)
Rep. Tom MacArthur in his Ocean County District Office (Townsquare Media)

Which areas deserve primary attention - economy, employment, energy, terrorism, race relations, gun control, environment, foreign relations, drugs, for example?

"We're in a season in which this President, in my opnion, should be focused on national security and the economy," MacArthur responded, both areas in which the Republican believes the Obama administration has been less than successful. He hopes not to hear other issues used as distractions to cloud those issues.

MacArthur conceded progress in some areas of the economy, and notes that the administration trumpets a declning unemployment rate.

"What they leave out, though, is the percentage of our population which is involved in our labor force, which is very low, historically," he pointed out.  "The number of people that are cobbling together part-time jobs, multiple part-time jobs, to try to eke out a living, is on the rise. We have 45,000,000 people below the poverty line."

MacArthur isn't simply leaving the blame on the White House steps. He acknowledged that Congress must be more cohesive. "We have to work on making this economy work for everyone."

While not dismissing the value of executive orders, MacArthur considered that the President has tried to use them "to get a half a loaf of what he wants instead of really working with Congress to do the hard work of governing, and come to a direction that the majority of the Representatives, and the people they represent, agree on."

"That's happened, if you look at what this administration has done on health care...in some respects in defense, in some respects in trying to control the economy, different executive orders that have come out of the Department of Labor, and what he's trying to do now with gun control," MacArthur said.

Reminded of Hillary Clinton's recent comment that a Republican President would be a sure way to undo Obamacare, MacArthur dismissed it as self-promotional fear-mongering, and offered a contrasting view.

"We showed last week that there is a clear path through the House and Senate to pass a bill that dismantles the most onerous parts of Obamacare," he said. "If we had a Republican in the White House, we would not just pass that bill, we would pass the replacement. We would have a patient-centered health care system that does what President Obama promised - let people choose their doctors...choose the insurance plans they want to be in...and have the marketplace make the delivery of health care more efficient."

"I'm not completely opposed to every last thing that our health care laws did," MacArthur continued. "I like covering pre-existing conditions. I think it's good to cover young people until they're a little older, maybe 26 is the right age. But all of this other executive overreach, where bureaucrats in Washington tell people how to live, just creates more cost, less choice, and less quality of health care."

MacArthur contended that the traps of the bully-pulpit approach apply to all sectors of the economy.

"When the government tries to dictate every last piece of the energy sector, or of...healthcare, or...of financial services, we end up with a country that's limping, instead of thriving," he said.

Above all, the shore Republican said, he hopes that national security will get great focus, because "this is a problem that's going to come home to roost."

Information reaching MacArthur about ISIS, its efforts to establish and grow territory and converts, the risk for direct and indirect attacks, and the infrastructure it seeks to build.

"We need to completely defeat them, and completely defeat their ability to make war," MacArthur said. "If we don't, we're going to be attacked in the way that Paris was, not too long ago, with coordinated attacks in multiple places. We're going to see more attacks like San Bernardino."

MacArthur envisions a two-tiered approach, military and political. Air strikes, he said, are not enough.

"We need to identify those people on the ground that are most reliable, and arm and support them.," he said. "We've done some state-building in Iraq, but we need to continue so that the Sunni Arabs in that country feel interested in the outcome. And we've got to get ISIS out of the territory it controls completely, because that's the source of their legitimacy and power."

The political side, he said, is to support broad-minded, inclusionary governance that presents its own best alternative to system disruption, "so that they become states that embrace their minorities, states that have a measure of democracy and justice. This is why Syria is such a focal point. If we drive ISIS underground, but don't fix Syria, they'll just emerge in a different form.."

The Obama administration's "strategic patience" approach, MacArthur concluded, is what has enabled ISIS to maintain its foothold, North Korea to continue missile tests, Russia to flex its muscles in Ukraine, and China to enlarge its scope with manufactured islands in the South China Sea without fear of repercussion.

"We spend too much money overseas, but this is no time to stop...This President has constantly been late to the party every time there's been action needed. 'Strategic patience'...in my day we called that 'dithering.' Much of the world's chaos is because we retreated. We have to get some of these areas moving in the right direction so we can be at peace."


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