I've been a little light on the politics lately - you could probably call it burnout, although in my case, it's more that my usual daily politics dose got put behind a paywall in the visual form and now only exists as an audio daily form. And, perhaps, that one can only read so much about the deliberate injury that a major political party intends to inflict on people you know and are friends with before you start wanting a buffer.
Plus, it seems that everyone agrees that it is election season since the middle of last fucking year
. I don't want to cover candidate shenanigans until those candidates start acting like serious people or they start winning their contests. Which extends most importantly to the current media trainwreck. So, I've probably missed some important things over the last few months by going media-light on current affairs. Self-care, though, is still a valid life choice. Maybe I'm ready to get back into things now, starting with this.
As required by the Constitution, "He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." So, on the evening of January 12, 02016, Barack Obama gave his eighth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. I'll be using The official enhanced address from The White House
and its associated official prepared remarks
for the speech.
To start off, I think we all have to admit that Barack Obama is a master of the self-deprecating joke. He's had to be, since he's been the subject of attacks based on perception of who he is as much as the policies that he's been espousing. He's also acutely aware that since the control of one house of Congress changed to control of the Republicans, the citizens of the U.S. have basically assumed, and been proven right, that the law-passing branch of the government would be unable to get its act together and actually govern.
The actual speech begins with the idea that, as it always has been, we live in a world of great and accelerating change, and that the spirit of the United States takes on new challenges instead of retreating to the past. Thus, the recovery from the recession, the Affordable Care Act, more green energy, better military personnel care, and marriage equality are a direct result of embracing the change of the future head-on.
That's great rhetoric, but for each of those things, there's a metric ton of trench work involved in bringing them to fruition. Saying the stimulus worked is accurate, but the recovery also involves the private sector. Marriage equality is decided by a court case, not an actual law. So there's a lot of that Hufflepuff work ethic outside your Slytherin rhetoric.
The four questions that the President proposes as long-term ideas are also the structure of his speech. Question one - "how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?"
Before actually addressing the question, the President hammers hard on the idea that the recovery and economy are going excellent and the government deficit is going way down. (Which they are, both of them. The data on the economy and the deficit back up those claims.)
Then comes the prime objection to looking at the country in this way - the economy doing well means the rich are doing well, and means nothing at all for the grand majority of people who work. In those areas, the President starts with the idea of universal pre-K and enough STEM work so that graduates of high school can take technology jobs right out of the gate. The President adds in to this the student loan reform already implemented and his proposal for two years of free community college for "responsible students", essentially extending the public education phase of life for two more years.
I would like to know how that idea would apply to those accepted to four year universities - would they also receive two years free, or an equivalent amount of money to be spent on the credit-hours of their university?
More importantly, though, would there also be a requirement that the four-year colleges accept the credits in transfer from the community colleges? Some places, including the University I attended, made it policy that they don't accept credits from other institutions they deem not up to the standards of their instruction. I'm sure this could all be detailed in a bill, were one ever to originate. Since the House controls spending...
There's also the big tenants of the Democrats - Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, transitioning into how much the President wants a robust private sector and that there is bureaucracy to be trimmed, which is the best applause line he has from both parties. Being at least a nominal populist, rich, he has to mention the truth that the rich and corporations don't trickle down, and that immigrants and the poor don't cause financial collapses.
He certainly doesn't go any father than that, though, and as we'll see, he's not aligning himself with Anonymous, the Occupy protests, or other people who think that the wealth and power of the rich and corrupt needs to be broken and redistributed.
Question Two is "how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?" The name-dropping about innovation are gender-balanced, at least, and all in science and tech (Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride), but then the President says he protected an open Internet. This is not true. The President supports the methods of the copyright cabal and their treaties intended to subjugate other countries to the laws of the United States. He supports the ways that those cabals keep things out of the public domain. He should stick to the environmental things, as he does in the next passages, rather than champion himself as a supporter of an open Internet.
After putting Vice President Biden at the helm of finding cancer cures, the President shifts to climate change, where green jobs and inexpensive energy resides.
From climate change and cheaper, cleaner energy, the President transitions into bellicosity about the strength of the United States. This is his introduction to question three: "how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?" There's an awful lot of chest-thumping about military might and protecting freedom and citizens and a nonzero amount about how militant fanatics should not have their view of the world reinforced through the actions of the United States.
The President wants to highlight his ability to work with other countries to solve problems, regarding the coalition in Syria, the lack of nuclear Iran, preventing the ebola outbreak from becoming significantly more widespread, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of those vehicles of the copyright cabals, and the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
And he dangles the possibility of curing HIV/AIDS and malaria within the near future, juxtaposing it with the need to close Guantanamo Bay.
That's also the transition to the last question, "how can we make our politics reflect what's best in us, and not what's worst?" The President goes for the low-hanging fruit to start with, that politicians and citizens that attack Muslims do the country a disservice and help the radicals that claim to be Muslim. He pivots to the need for compromise to make the process of government move forward, which requires believing others are acting in good faith, instead of calling them unpatriotic or claiming they hate America...or proving that elected representatives act in the interests of their people, instead of corporations and wealthy donors.
For the President, that means reforming money in politics, making voting easier, standing up for those who are weaker, and being engaged in the political process and public life. Serious reforms about money in politics would be welcome, as would rolling back all the Republican-led efforts to make it harder for segments that don't vote Republican to vote. Handing off the redistricting process to true nonpartisans would also help get representative districts properly drawn.
And it might also not hurt to have people other than career politicians in the roles of government for a change.
The closing statement is the ritual incantation to the state of the union being strong and the other incantation to The Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton to show favor on the United States.
The President is a skilled orator, and always has been, but action would be the loudest thing to say for either side to indicate their support, or at least a willingness to commit to getting a bill put together.
What we got, instead, was the official Republican response
, with accompanying transcript of the 2016 Republican response
Governor Haley of South Carolina was tapped to deliver the response, which seems calculated as a way of trying to make the Republicans seem less the party of White Men. Governor Haley had her own big thing this year, when a black activist scaled a flagpole in a state cemetery and removed the Confederate flag flying there.
The opening of the speech makes a strong assertion that the President's record falls short of his oratory, especially on the matter of the economy and health care. Which seems like waltzing through a minefield to me, as the Republican Party can pretty easily be tagged for the failures of both, since they insisted that the health care reform reward the health insurance companies, they have trouble passing budgets, and their usually bread and butter constituency are the people responsible for the economic meltdown.
After that somewhat rickety start, Governor Haley shifts to immigration, first by recounting her own immigrant heritage, then declaring that immigration had to be fixed by stopping illegal immigration, requiring vetting of immigrants, and refusing refugees whose intentions can't be determined. The idea of reforming the system by closing off parts of it doesn't seem to be one that would hold water, not to mention the difficulty of figuring out what a refugee's intent actually is.
The governor engages in a non-sequitur about a different tragedy from this year involving a man shooting others in a church, and the response that came from it meant to heal the area, instead of...listening to the loudest and angriest voices. If that really were important to the GOP, Donald Trump would not be at the top of the candidates' list, as he qualifies on both counts.
After this, Governor Haley is ready to go down the list of high-pitched whistles to the base. Observe:
If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we'd put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.
Once again, the deficit is shrinking for this year, as it has been for the many years before it. And if the government really wanted to get serious about paying down debt, it could probably add a significant amount of income and debt reduction just by removing various methods that the richest use to avoid their taxes.
We would encourage American innovation and success instead of demonizing them, so our economy would truly soar and good jobs would be available across our country.
We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.
I'm not sure where the talking point about demonizing innovation came from. So I can't say much about that.
Education, however, seems to be a matter of funding a way to make sure that the poorest districts have enough money to be able to conduct operations. "Bureaucrats and union bosses" are the whistle, there, because if seems to be a matter of dogma that public school teachers are lazy is uninspired because the security of their union job makes them complacent. To that, I say the Republicans should shadow public school teachers and then ask again whether they are lazy. And that they should note that for-profit charter schools will create tiers of education, where the inability to provide the tuition for a private education will give a student a second-class designation for years.
We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.
You've had long enough to produce the plan. Put up or shut up.
We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.
"We wish the icky gay men and lesbians were forced to stay closeted and barred from getting married, and align ourselves with the most conservative of churches and denominations."
We would recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety. And yes, that includes the Second and Tenth Amendments.
"Guns and 'States' Rights' forever.
We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.
if you think Israel isn't thrilled at the prospect of a non-nuclear Iran, you are very much mistaken.
And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military, so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.
"War forever, maybe with even more money and hardware put into it."
And with the ritual invocations to the Past That Never Was and the Being, that's the end of the response. It was light on substance - take advantage of your hypertext and start cracking on the specifics. Plans are what drives the legislative process. Without that, the country won't take your party seriously.
Worth mentioning at the end, there are more than a few people in Twitter putting lyrics from the musical Hamilton to images and ideas from the speech. It might be the most tweeted thing about the speech.
And there's your speechmaking. Into the election year we go from here, I suppose.