Thursday, February 03, 2011

On the state of the state of the union

Okay, so I watched this year's SOTU the day after the event itself. We don't have standard television (and not in a snooty, Jesse Eisenberg, "I don't even have a TV" way--we watch an assload of TV, but we stream most of it), so I ended up watching it later on YouTube. That gave me the opportunity to read a lot of commentary on it beforehand, which I probably shouldn't have done but did anyway (so there), and that had me looking for undesirable things in Obama's speech: extreme socialism, extreme kowtowing, a sense of giving in and giving up.

I didn't see any of it.

Now, you all know me. You know my politics and views. You know that Barack Obama has been my pretend boyfriend since the 2004 DNC. But you also know that I tend to be (I think) fairly reasonable and discerning. And with this speech, I discerned… a pretty good speech. It was an appropriate balance of optimism (dare I even say hope?) and realism, it made solid proposals that were backed up by ways to make them happen, and it really, really showed a lot of respect for our country.

A few things that jumped out at me, briefly:

(Okay, a whole bunch of stuff that jumped out at me, at length:)

America the Beautimous

- There's an emphasis on the "American family" over party--working together tomorrow, facing governing challenges that are bigger than party politics. Oh, Barack. So innocent and full of light. Never change.

- The "first nation to be founded for the sake of a dream"--ooh, shivers.

- I like that he pointed out how each generation has made sacrifices to make the American dream progress, and now it's our turn. It's been so long that we've been filling our Hummers because we can and going shopping or else the terrorists have won; we'd do well to remember what our grandparents did and gave up in the name of keeping our country strong.

Ideas and Innovations

- I like that he's officially coming out behind innovators and inventors. That's the way to go. I just hate that he used the phrase "Sputnik moment"--I get what he was getting at, but there are so many people who are going to go so many stupid places with it.

- When he makes proposals, he also proposes things we can reasonably cut to make room for the new stuff. Clean energy can be developed at the expense of subsidies to oil companies--as he points out, they're doing quite well on their own, and of course they can always jump back in with clean-energy proposals of their own. Make college more affordable at the expense of bank subsidies. Propose something, then tell us how you're going to pay for it. Good stuff.

- "Race to the Top" over "No Child Left Behind"--thank freaking God.

- High-speed rail and nationwide wireless broadband--I like the idea. I also like the idea of unicorns. But I like the idea of those things, too.

There Are No Small Businessmen, Just Small Businesses

- Taxes! Simplify the corporate tax system so that smaller businesses can keep more money to grow with and large corporations can't wiggle out of paying taxes entirely. Is this the first time this has ever been proposed in an SOTU, or have I just not been listening?

- Regulations! Review regulations that overburden small-businesspersons.

- I'd like to hear more about these trade agreements he's pursuing. He's a little vague there--he throws them out there and says they'll support jobs, but he never really says how. I like to know how. (See above, in re: "how.")

No, Honey, to Our Health

- He admits that every law has its flaws--and even identifies one right there, live, in the form of excessive bookkeeping burdens on small businesses. And he invites everyone to make their reasoned suggestions on how to fix it. You bastard!

- "Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward." How 'bout it, Republicans Who Ran on a Platform of Nothing But a Promise to Roll Back Health Care Reform? You up for that, or you still want to get your way?

Daffy Duck Reception! Taffy for Consumption!

- "Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same."

- He frames debt and deficit reduction as a matter of responsibility, which makes it sound like our government really could be financially responsible if it tried. Nifty!

- Freezing domestic spending sounds great, and it's kind of nice to hear that he'll be making sacrifices in the form of some of his pet community action programs, but… if you can acknowledge that federal salaries have already been frozen for two years, you need to acknowledge that there are people who are struggling because their salary isn't keeping up with the cost of living. I'm sure they'd love a domestic spending plan that didn't involve perpetuating that.

- Cut excess military and social spending yes, cut education and innovation no; extend tax cuts for richest two percent no, simplify tax code yes.

- Medical malpractice reform: While I love the thought of my dad being protected from spurious lawsuits, I also recognize that "medical malpractice reform" is often a shortcut to the land of "don't bother suing, Man Who Got the Wrong Leg Amputated, because it's not going to go anywhere." Any specifics there, Mr. President?

- Social Security: Again, Mr. President, specifics? Even just pertinent generalities?

At Home…

- Reorganizing government to be more competent and efficient: Once again, Barack, never change. (Did you know about the salmon thing? Wow! That is wild.)

- "If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it."

… and Abroad

- I like the emphasis on taking the fight to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of my big frustrations with the Iraq war was that it was so obviously secret agendas and bullshit reasoning--we were going into Iraq because Iraq was sexy, while the men who were actually responsible for the 9/11 attacks were doing budget small-space makeovers in their caves. Now that we can ease out of the Iraq war a bit, it's time to focus on the real threats.

= "America's moral example." We need to remember to be one. I know that has actually been de-emphasized in the past--we're in dangerous, trying times and we have to do what we have to do. I like this reminder that what we have to do is what's right.

- Hell yes, supporting our troops. Hell yes, give them the care and equipment they need. Hell yes, get them involved and productive instead of shoving them off to the side.

- Hell yes, opening doors to recruiters and ROTC on college campuses. I absolutely did not see that one coming, but I love that Obama brought that up as a result of the repeal of DADT.

And the Crowd Goes Wild

- Were those boos for health insurance reform? (And he chuckles and says, "Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.")

- Also, Messrs. Grumpypants sitting there looking all grumpypants during the standing O for reducing bookkeeping costs on small businesses. He just cannot do anything to please you, can he?

- Every time they cut to the Joint Chiefs, they look like they're all holding back farts. (Military spending cuts and DADT.)

- I thought that John Boehner was affectedly unimpressed throughout--I mean, come on, that line about smoked salmon was a hoot--but then I realized that's just how his face looks. He should hang out with the Joint Chiefs.

- Madame First Lady, please drink coffee. I'm sure you've heard this speech 20 times while he's brushing his teeth, but you're not supposed to look grumpy when he's orating. (You're still a classy broad. Love the dress.)


I see what some people on the left might be pissed off about: It was so reasonable. There was nothing inflammatory. No middle fingers. No pointed jabs. No ridiculous claims. In a country that's off of eight years of the most backward administration ever to go backward, we feel like it's time for one that's mad-crazy left and intentionally pissing of the right and then lighting up a bong and passing it around Congress while he talks. We're owed that. And so when we got someone who was reasonable, we were disappointed and kind of scared--is the pendulum ever going to swing back our way?

Well, maybe it's not supposed to. Dead-center is where the pendulum is supposed to end up. Granted, it's carrying the momentum of a government that's been getting right-er every minute, but its rightful place is in the middle, where most Americans are. And that's where Obama went. He didn't go centrist-as-defined-by-the-conservatives, wherein "center" is actually farther right than anything else. And he didn't even go centrist-as-defined-by-the-liberals, which actually the same definition as the conservatives because "centrist" is, to the left, a dirty word.

But if you want to find a new definition for "centrist," maybe one around the area of "92 percent approval by the SOTU-watching public," it's a place that Obama can plant his flag. He made proposals that would please the conservatives--corporate tax reform, spending cuts, reorganized government--but they weren't pandering. They were what is good for America. Obama didn't define "centrist" or "moderate" or "reasonable" relative to today's politics--he determined what needed to be done and what was right for the country, and he planted a flag in it and said, "This is the middle. Now let's get some shit done." Which is a good place to start if getting shit done is your goal.

Coming up: I respond to the responses to the State of the Union.

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