An estimated 33.5 million Americans watched the State of the Union speech, in which President Obama told us that the true engine of America's economic growth was "a rising, thriving middle class."

Obama is into his second term of office and we're still looking for the leadership to inspire that "true engine" that's the middle class. Instead, American families are pawns of the Washington political infighting.

If you want to play the blame game, start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The piles of federal regulations endorsed by this president are choking the life out of any hopes of economic recovery. Instead of growth and prosperity, Obama's policies have produced record deficits, negative growth earnings, record numbers on federal assistance and stagnant unemployment.

In the first two months of this year, wage earners lost an average of $40 in their paychecks due to the expiration of the payroll tax and consumers have seen their budgets squeezed through soaring food and gasoline prices. This is psychologically deflating. When a person feels poorer, he automatically tightens up on spending and borrows less and that's the recipe for more recession.

Gas prices have risen 93 percent since Obama took office and the price for a gallon of regular has jumped a half dollar in just the last month. In the State of the Union speech, the president boasted that his administration had aggressively expanded oil and gas exploration.

But this president has flipped from his 2008 position, when he criticized President George Bush who announced he planned to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling.

"Offshore drilling," he said, "would not lower gas prices today, it would not lower gas prices next year and it would not lower gas prices five years from now."

At that time, gas prices were closing in on $4 a gallon, which, Obama said, was a clear sign of "Washington's failure to lead on energy," which was "turning the middle-class squeeze into a devastating vise-grip for millions of Americans."

"For the well-off in this country," Obama said in that 2008 address, "high gas prices are mostly an annoyance, but to most Americans they're a huge problem, bordering on a crisis." In August of that year, he declared rising energy costs to be "one of the most dangerous and urgent threats this nation has ever faced" and that gas prices "are wiping out paychecks and straining businesses."

Last Saturday, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota called on Obama to approve the full transnational pipeline that would bring oil from Canada's tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico. Hoeven said the project, known as the Keystone XL Pipeline, would create tens of thousands of jobs, help keep down the cost of fuel, reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East and ultimately help us deal with an out-of-control federal debt.

"The real question then, Mr. President," Hoeven said, "is: Are you going to respect the will and wisdom of a majority of the American people and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or are you going to submit to the will of vocal special interest groups? Hollywood activists don't have to worry about energy prices or a weekly paycheck, but working families do."

To answer that, King Obama needs to leave his liberal and Hollywood elitist friends for a day to walk in the shoes of an average middle class family, the same people he's been promising to help in just about every politically-motovated speech he's given.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com