Thursday, January 28, 2010

President Obama's State Of The Union Address

So I watched the State of the Union speech last night (you can watch/read it here) and yes, I do have a few thoughts. All in all I found it a pretty good, not great, but pretty good speech and while it was one of the longer States of the Union in a decade I thought that it encompassed pretty much everything it had to without plodding along (although the average non-political junkie might take exception to that statement). Most importantly though, it was a challenge to the American people as well as the recently ineffectual Democratic party to not back down in the face of economic and political adversity.

As always, Obama combined soaring oratory with conversational rhetoric and I thought that he appeared quite presidential as he used both to easily convey his ideas to the American people in a frank, almost informal, manner. He once again enumerated the myriad problems that his administration has inherited from the last one (this will most likely be labeled as petty or partisan by some talking heads but recent news cycles have shown that many folks are already beginning to forget these things) before quickly moving on to the main topic of the economy.

He started out by commiserating with Americans about their collective economic woes with a warning that while the worst is behind us there is still much to be done (tedious but necessary) before laying out proposals for business loans, tax credits and the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses while at the same time urging the Senate to pass a jobs bill similar to the House bill from last year. He also articulated the need for stronger financial reform of the banking system which was then followed by a call for more investment in clean energy jobs and increases in safe nuclear power, off shore drilling and so-called clean coal technology. I can't tell you how happy it made me to finally hear a Democratic president calling for more and better nuclear power plants; I was less enthusiastic about the off shore drilling and "clean" coal however.

He then noted the need for increased U.S. exporting of goods and making sure that our trading partners and competitors adhere to the rules of current trade agreements in order to make America competitive on the world market once again. Finally, he emphasized that we must increase funding for and accountability of public education, particularly in the areas of math and the sciences, through a national reform competition and tax credits for attending four year colleges. His pronouncement that he does "not accept second-place for the United States of America" on these fronts set an appropriately forceful tone as he then addressed the current health care reform debate in Congress.

He repeated his administrations goals of covering the uninsured, bringing down the deficit and insurance premiums, strengthening Medicare for seniors and reining in insurance company abuses (those of us who have been paying attention have heard these all a thousand times) before stating that he's still open to any serious suggestions about doing so while also asking Congress to "not walk away from reform" when they are so close to changing the status quo of a health care system that has been broken for decades. This is what I was wanting to hear more than anything else last night and while I think that he could have been a little more forceful (don't I always?) I think that his message was quite clear: I've spent the better part of my first year working on this so you wishy-washy bureaucratic pussies need to sack up and get this thing done! That's a little something called leadership and it was nice to see him finally doing it well.

Addressing the deficit Obama again explained that it was necessary to spend money that was added to our debt in order to right the country's financial ship rather than immediately trying to reduce spending, something he would have preferred to do right away. He introduced his plan for a bipartisan fiscal commission charged with reducing the deficit and then stated that since American families are tightening their belts that the federal government should do the same; though why, I have no idea. Yes, his proposed three year spending freeze looks good on a psychological and symbolic level and it's a good jumping off point for serious fiscal responsibility and reforms in the future but I'm still of the opinion that when it comes to the economy we should be listening to the suggestions of actual economists, not public opinion polls from nervous voters unable to balance their own checkbooks.

He then pivoted to the problem of Americans not trusting their government (who do so with ample reason, I might add) by addressing the need for bipartisanship in governing along with lobbying and earmark reform, all of which I won't believe until I see it irregardless of which party is in power. His foreign policy proposals were fairly standard and pretty much hold overs from his campaign: increased vigilance towards al-Qaida and terrorist networks, prohibitions against unlawful torture (although holding certain past administrations accountable for instituting such practices seems to be all but off the table as of late), strengthening our position in Afghanistan, pulling our troops out of Iraq, securing loose nukes from former Soviet republics and keeping up diplomatic pressure against Iran and North Korea. I certainly don't mean to belittle these efforts by calling them campaign hold overs because I do think that Obama is quite sincere on these issues; I'm just saying that we've already heard them all before, as we have his ever eloquent call to embrace the ideals and values that have made America great (but that part is always good to hear and never gets old).

As I said, this was obviously a speech for both the American people and members of the Democratic party but they weren't the only ones Obama was speaking to last night. Just as he did with teachers' unions and black voters during the presidential election, Obama spelled out some hard truths to several groups assembled in the crowd. He admonished Republicans for their callous obstructionism on health care and economic reform who, despite his repeated calls for bipartisan tax relief and energy policies, proceeded to sit on their hands throughout the entire speech whilst glaring like petulant children being scolded by an angry father. He was met with similarly dissenting scowls from conservative Supreme Court justices and the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he decried the recent ruling allowing corporations unfettered access to politicians and media through increased campaign contributions and pledged to end the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" towards homosexuals, respectively. And on a totally unrelated style note, I was also quite happy that he forwent the relatively recent practice of presidents sprinkling various ringers throughout the audience to refer to during their speeches; it just always seemed like such awkward and obvious political theatre to me and it wasn't missed at all.

This was a speech of intelligence, wit, honesty and serious truths that the American people, and especially our politicians, needed to hear from our president. Obama stood before the nation and reminded us of why we elected him to lead us through these tough times. I do fully expect his continued calls for bipartisanship to fall upon deaf Republican ears but that will of course come as no big surprise; what I really hope to see emerge as a result of this speech is a renewed spirit of perseverance and strength on behalf of the Democratic party. Obama needed to come up with a strong State of the Union address last night and he delivered, but I never really had any concerns on that account. As always, it's what he does best. We must now wait to see if he convinced Congress to similarly deliver on the various proposals he's laid out for the nation. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't cynical about his chances but I also must admit that I now have a bit more optimism towards that end as well. Let's just hope that it's warranted.


James Aach said...

Since the Prez has brought it up, I'll just toss this out there for your information: If you'd care to learn what daily life in a US nuclear plant is actually like and how an accident might unfold, see my novel "Rad Decision", based on my 20+ years in the nuke industry. Nuclear has its good points and bad points, and this is a good introduction to them. It is free online at RadDecision.blogspot.com No advertising, no sponsors, no money for me.

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand, noted futurist, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog

Leslie Parsley said...

JBW: "what I really hope to see emerge as a result of this speech is a renewed spirit of perseverance and strength on behalf of the Democratic party."

Wouldn't that be refreshing? An excellent analysis.

"I was also quite happy that he forwent the relatively recent practice of presidents sprinkling various ringers throughout the audience ."

Not the most important issue, but so true nonetheless.

And the Republicans just kept shaking their heads no.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

While I enjoyed your analysis JBW, I did notice that it was almost as long as Obama's speech. And therin lies a problem with us. If we can't get things into a tiny soundbite too many people lose interest.

To Mr. Aach: I have a blog I do to change the lives of every American for the better. It is free. I want no money for providing this service. I only want to emlighten and entertain. Futurists think I should be in everyone's future. It's vital to our future.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

I'm a junkie for good political writing in case you haven't noticed JBW. I read your analysis twice and probaly will read it again tomorrow.

Well done as usual.

Doug"e" said...

Kudos JBW. Spot on. Nice to see the well not dry.

JBW said...

Thanks, guys. I didn't mean for it to turn out so long. Brevity isn't one of my strong suits.

Anonymous said...

Expecting Obama to hold any past administration "accountable [legally] for their actions" is foolish. I sincerely doubt he's using torture or very many other illegal tactics to achieve anything he's doing, but you can only control your subordinates to a certain surface degree. He'd only be placing a future target on his own head if he went after Bush real aggressively... whether founded in truth or not.

JBW said...

I disagree, one L. Contrary to what many have said in trying to frame torture by our CIA and military as the actions of a few rogue actors, the decision to torture and the techniques used were authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration; there is now ample evidence to back this up.

I will agree with you in that I don't think that Obama will make any real efforts to prosecute those responsible but I think that this will be the case not because of trying to cover his own ass but rather because, sadly, Washington politicians are part of an exclusive club and will ultimately take care of each other.

Also, I assume that he'll not do this because he's trying very hard right now to foster an atmosphere of bipartisan civility and any attempt to hold Bush Co. accountable will be vehemently framed as partisan retribution by the Republicans and their supporters. One more thing he's not done that I elected him to do but one has to take the good with the bad.