As has become procedure for Presidents, President Obama delivered a suite of proposals for the upcoming Congressional session
and the loyal opposition said they have no intention of letting any of them happen.
The speech that I watched was the White House YouTube channel, which chose to provide infographics to accompany the speech at points where infographic would help illustrate the President's points. It is a very slick presentation, and it should be watched if for no other reason than to appreciate the presentation.
To the content, then! The opening gambit is to say that the page is turning on the wars of the previous administrator, which is not true - Afghanistan will continue, but at a lower visibility. Additionally, I'll not sure that bringing to mind the current campaigns of this administration is the way to start out to say that things are better. Or that we are ready to turn the page.
The real thrust of "turning the page" is to say the economy is recovering from the crash of 2007 and the mismanagement of the previous administration. That much is true, and the President is right to note that the recovery is mostly benefiting the rich. He backs off that position immediately with a story of a construction business owner who had to find other work when the industry crashed, whose wife retrained with community college, and who was able to return to it after the recovery. This is supposed to be an example story of the United States after recovery. It really isn't, though, as most of us don't have access to those kinds of resources.
What follows is a listing of what is supposed to be achievements - new jobs, in the country, less dependence on foreign energy, more people than ever with health insurance, regulation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to prevent the next financial crisis, and school children doing better in tests and graduating high school more than ever. Which seems a bit more like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, but you take the victories where you can get them, especially in the face of an opposition that regularly declares their intent to never work with you.
As the President put it, "middle-class economics works." If he were being completely honest, he'd say, "Focusing on working people works.", but that's still a bridge too far for the Democrats, who have much the same moneyed interests pulling their strings as the Republicans do. The promise to veto anything that threatens to roll back the gains of the last few years is the low-hanging fruit of protecting those gains, but will likely be the one put into play the most.
That hesitation to go all the way manifests in the way the President makes his appeal to the Congress for more help. He describes "middle-class economics" as setting up the field so that everyone has their fair shot - not that people should be able to live their lives with a minimum level of security or guarantee, but just that everyone should be able to have an equal chance of success. Taken out to its logical conclusion, that would say the President is in favor of strong redistribution of wealth and of a minimum floor of social safety net so that everyone is free to try and succeed at what they really want to do, instead of having to make the decision between making enough money to live and pursuing their desired profession.
What we get as examples of how to go ate good ones toward achieving this, though - the need for affordable high-quality child care, which chews though family finances at an astonishing rate and holds otherwise productive people, usually women, out of the workforce because someone has to take care of the children, the need for guaranteed sick leave, so that parents can take care of sick children (or stay home from work when they are sick, reducing the risk of infecting others and speeding their own recovery, and raising the minimum wage (which has an invitation to the Congresscritters to try and live on $15,000 USD per year and see if it's easy). It's still in the language of "a fair shot", but those things would be excellent in giving working people, especially working women, some amount of security. That it seems to be accomplished mostly through tax breaks rather than wage boosts or other direct support means there will still be plenty who can't take advantage, though.
The President then outlines a suggestion to try and make community college, the two-year degree, have a net zero cost so that adults can retrain and young people hit the workforce with more than their required school diploma or equivalent (a certification that has become basically useless in terms of employment prospects). He follows that up with the need for infrastructure investment and net neutrality (couched as protecting the United States against China and other powers rewriting trade and other rules to their own advantage, which should make some Republicans feel like the President is speaking their language) and talks about new missions into space.
Those investments can be paid for if the tax code gets revised to close the exceptions that the very richest use to avoid paying their fair share, the President points out. It's true - all that and more could be done if the Congress could shake itself free of the campaign cash and perks that large corporations and rich donors offer in exchange for favorable treatment. As it is, though, it's unlikely anything well be done about that.
To prevent a complete conservative panic, though, the President throws them a bone by mentioning all the foreign aggression he's conducting and asserting his right to hunt terrorists wherever they are, national sovereignty be damned, before pointing out that the Congress still needs to pass an authorization for all that work and talking about the thawing of relations with Cuba (acknowledging, finally, that they can't topple the regime and must learn to deal with it) and other diplomatic successes, such as the lack of progress in Iran's nuclear program, trade deals, and the fighting of Ebola. He also wants secure networks against intrusion and attack from hackers, especially networks that handle infrastructure and sensitive data.
Then it's back to more liberal (for the States) thinking - fighting climate change, denouncing racism and bias, whether anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, or anti-LGBT, and closing up the Guantanamo Bay prison, symbol of all things gone wrong with US aggression since 2001 (even though the prison itself predates that usage). The President had an opportunity to twist a knife hard on any of these issues by mentioning the progress made to this point, but he refrained. Considering what this Congress is likely to do for the next two years, a sharp poke would have been eminently justified.
Instead, the President chooses to plant his Take That in his continued belief, despite the last six years, that there is not "black America" and "white America", or conservative America and liberal America, even as pundits and commentators point out that partisanship is still as strong as ever, if not more so. (At least on the conservative side of the aisle.) The President makes an exhortation for "better politics", true cooperation, less seeking talking points and sound bites and more seeking what's best for the country, less cozying up to money and more thinking what's best for the people. The kind of politics that can disagree about the morals of abortion and still work toward making teen pregnancies lower and providing comprehensive care for women, or that can debate the best policy for immigration without freezing out or deporting those who are trying to make a good life or who have always been here and know no other life. A politics that entrusts the people with the vote and let's them use it, instead of finding every way that it can to deny them the vote. (With the speech bring delivered on the federal holiday for Dr. King, voter disenfranchisement should stick particularly hard.) A politics that wants to make it safe for both police officers and young black men. (He didn't say #BlackLivesMatter, but he implied it, at least.)
To conclude, the President talked about standard things, like promises to the next generation and that the country has seen and bounced back from some pretty horrible things, so we should be more like a tight-knit family. And with that, the ritual theistic sign-off, and the speech is over.
This speech is much in the same vein as other Obama speeches - it talks about the right topics to be considered a liberal affair, but when the specifics come out, it's not nearly as liberal as it could be. Which aggravates those looking for a real liberal party - they want it to be more aggressive and left-leaning in policy and proposals, so that when the inevitable compromise happens, there's a chance to move things in the liberal direction.
The start of the official response turns out flat, as the Senator from Iowa says they're going to talk about the priorities of the country. I have to wonder whether Joni Ernst was selected because the Republican Party wants to forestall the perpetual complaint against them that they don't put women in power positions (or, for that matter, care about women at all), or because they have faith that Senator Ernst can deliver a compelling argument. The delivery of the speech is a little too much of "reading the screen" rather than ah organic-sounding speech, but I'm not sure I could do better in a national address.
The content of the speech is a disappointment, really, for anyone hoping that the Republican Party would start sounding like an entity interested in serious proposals. A "BOOTSTRAPS!" narrative of life in Iowa is supposed to establish the regular folks image, while providing an easy way to capitalize on the general sentiment that the economic recovery hasn't had strong effects on the life if the average worker. So it's not without purpose, but it's more interested in proving bona fides than getting to Republican ideas.
Also, the idea that the Affordable Care Act is a failure is demonstrably untrue. It may be inconvenient or hurtful for the constituency that the Republican Party is trying to cultivate, but the Affordable Care Act has been successful.
There's a slick rhetoric device at work in calling the Keystone XL oil pipeline a jobs bill. It's not a lie, as a construction project of that magnitude will create jobs, but the consequences that come with an oil pipeline have been playing out over the last few years, months, and weeks. The issues involved are greater than just job creation, and to say that there will be "minimal environmental impact" in the pipeline being built sidesteps the possible environmental impacts in case the tar sands oil being transported is spilled or leaked out. That's a bad claim to make with news of oil and chemical spills from pipelines still recent in memory.
If both parties are so invested in making the tax code simpler for the regular people, why can't they actually agree on what to do?
I can't say it's a bad thing to get an officer to talk about confronting terrorism and taking care of veterans, but actions speak louder in this case.
The rest of the speech is standard Republican talking points about cutting waste, repealing successful legislation, being tough on Iran and cybercrime, and reiterating that the Republican Party is still the party of "life".
The speech closes with an extended jingoistic version of the ritual theistic sign-off.After both speeches, it's still pretty clear that the Republicans are not interested in cooperation
, to put it mildly, and despite speaking for nearly ten minutes, I have no idea what sort of proposals the Republicans are thinking about, past trying to pass a D.O.A. proposal to build a very large oil pipeline and passing symbolic measures of how much they hate the Affordable Care Act. This is not a good thing if you want to be seen as a party with plans and the capacity to govern, then that the Republicans have majorities in both houses.
It's quite possible we'll all be pleasantly surprised by practical proposals that try to minimize the partisan rewards and hidden benefits for their benefactors while also helping the people that voted them in, but the last many years have made cynicism and gridlock the default, which is not a good place to be in if you're hoping for optimism in the population.
Thus, this year will still likely be characterized by what I decided to title the post - proposals unlikely to move forward. No matter which party is proposing.
Two more years.