Saturday, January 29, 2011

The State of the Union

"The State of the Union is strong." Those words ended the annual Presidential Report to the nation. Last year the address was delivered in a tense atmosphere, the mood of the Congress was divisive and Citizens United had just been decided. The battle over health care was still being waged and accusations were flying back and forth across party lines. What a difference a year makes; who would have thought after the November election with strong Republican wins, that the President would come at this speech from a position of strength?

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Arizona, efforts were made to change not only the appearance but also the reality of the mood under the Capitol Dome. But, as the President mentioned in acknowledgement of the pairing off of parties and philosophies, sitting together in a bi-partisan manner for one night is not enough. All must work together on the morrow. The words for this evening were not those of the partisan stump speech with a nod to every interest group which we have become accustomed to in recent years. This was a more substantive and serious speech pitched more to the American people than those in the room.

The theme of the speech was to look forward, expand horizons, and send a positive message. Here was not the discussion of doom and gloom, lost jobs and foreclosures, but rather a look forward despite the debt issues with a promise of uplifting solutions such as was done in the race to put a man on the moon. Instead of moving toward deficit warnings he promoted individual entrepreneurs and innovative discoveries. Mention was not made of the success from the automotive bailout, but a challenge was sent to the business community. He asked for a reduction of the tax breaks for millionaires as well as the oil and gas industries and for a commitment from the corporate world to train and employ more workers. Pushing the need for competitiveness for the US as world class economic players, he also encouraged decreasing outsourcing and bringing the jobs back home. In this challenge to corporations, he urged movement toward the industries of the new age, innovation and alternative energy options. In this down economy as corporate incomes begin to again rise, many businesses are sitting on large amounts of cash and are not spending to develop more businesses or hire more workers. His challenge was for this to change -- to both look forward and to prepare for future changes. Education, innovation, infrastructure improvement and technology changes were all said to be necessary steps on the country’s pathway to the future.

Some have criticized the speech for not being more specific on job creation and being too soft on the matter of broad corporate responsibility. With Bill Daley (who comes with major political and corporate ties) as a new member in the White House camp, it remains to be seen how many corporations can be brought in to assist in these goals. The Progressive community grumbled about the message being too oriented toward business and not leaning left enough in his broad message. Issues such as the environment and energy initiatives were overlooked. The lack of a strong call for automatic weapons reform was voiced across the internet. Some worried that his message was too centrist; however those who had previously screamed "socialism" had little fodder to for their messaging.

The President rightly stood up for healthcare and signaled his intent to continue to do so, even while acknowledging that some improvements could be made. He mentioned the removal of the small business vendor 1099 form requirement -- which has nothing to do with healthcare, but was apparently requested by the IRS -- and is seen as a welcome change in many circles. But Obama brought forward this discussion from a position of strength, not confrontation and used humor to push his message. Budget freezes and denial of earmarks were presented as a start toward budget reductions. Entitlements were taken off the table. On the war front he indicated that all combat troops would be coming home from Iraq in June, leaving only administrative forces in place, while in Afghanistan, he indicated that he expects to start removing some combat forces about the same time. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was heralded. He did not mention his inability, due to Congressional restraints, to keep his promise about closing the prison base at Guantanamo.

Much was made of the camaraderie shown in the Chamber during the speech which was said to have been interrupted some 75 times for applause (so much better than the outburst last year!) Despite the furor about the remarks the President made last year about Citizens United, Chief Justice Roberts did attend, along with Justice Kennedy and the Democratic appointed members, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. (Justice Alito was in Hawaii, and Scalia and Thomas were also absent.) Each of the Justices was personally greeted by the President as he arrived for the speech.

In conclusion, public opinion polls were strongly positive and said to appreciate the upbeat message. I would tend to agree with that assessment and feel that in this way the President has taken the message and the momentum, despite the opposition. In fact considering the negativity from the triad of follow-up critical speakers: Representatives Ryan, Bachman and former governor Palin, none managed to land a punch or make an effective counter-argument. Ryan was predictably wonky and dire in his budget predictions. Bachman had a garbled message, spoken while looking disconcertingly into the wrong camera, while Palin was mostly off topic and somewhat rude.

What do you think should have been in the speech, but was missed? Did you find it superficial or special? Let me know your thoughts here.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't watched the State of the Union address on TV in ages. It comes on too late. I guess that I could have recorded it and watched it the next day, but all of the pundits have already torn it apart letter-by-letter on the news, so watching it the next day is moot.

    Plus, I have to be honest -- for the State of the Union address, all I hear in my head is Charlie Brown's teacher ... you know, "wha wha wha wha wha..."

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