By Doug Porter
Unless we have some sort of national emergency over the next couple of years, last night’s State of the Union address by President Barack Obama was his last best chance to give a speech that would be heard by a significant slice of Americans.
From here on out the focus of political coverage will be the 2016 elections. Not because there’s actually any news there, but because it’s much more entertaining than watching the Black guy in the White House bang his head against the wall of NO built by Republicans.
After all, if you actually analyze the actions of the loyal opposition–which includes a gaggle of incidents wherein they became against some idea they used to champion–you’d end up talking about the racism built into Republican political strategy over the past half a century.
I was frankly amazed after reading the reactions to and reportage on the President’s speech before both houses of Congress last night. Perhaps through some miracle of internet algorithms different speeches were broadcast into every household in America. People heard what they wanted to hear.
We watched the speech at my house, with our Vox.com SOTU bingo card and a stack of pennies on hand to keep us focused. The longshot (I thought) chance of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg falling asleep during the speech was one of the highlights of this diversion, which had the additional benefit of keeping us from thinking too much about how little of what was being talked out would actually happen.
President Obama’s oratory abilities were at their best last night. If you closed your eyes to Rep. John Boehner’s scowl, you could almost envision a better country with opportunity for all in the future. If you ignored Republicans refusing to applaud for basic things like equal pay for women, you’d almost think we were in the 21st century. And if you closed your ears during the foreign policy and trade parts of the speech, you might have thought we had a politically progressive president in office.
Those critical of the President for not proposing a laundry list of legislation or saying that specific issues weren’t mentioned missed the bigger picture of what was going on. Faced with the party of ‘No’ dominating the legislature, Barack Obama went over their heads and tried instead to talk in broad strokes to the American people about what his vision was.
All of the tricks of the modern day journalism trade were used to report on the speech. There were fact checks on everything said by anybody. Word clouds galore litter the virtual world this morning. Memes were manufactured to appeal to those who aren’t so word-centric. Responses to responses were broadcast. There was even one response (Sen. Ted Cruz) making the rounds wherein the speaker forgot his talking points.
Here are some of the things collected as I made the rounds of the media world this morning:
UT-San Diego ran with a hybrid Associated Press/Washington Post dispatch touting the “defiant” nature of the speech.
Refusing to bend to the new Republican Congress, President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday night an ambitious State of the Union agenda steeped in Democratic priorities, including tax increases on the wealthy, education and child care help for the middle class and a torrent of veto threats for the GOP’s own plans.
In a shift from tradition, Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress was less a laundry list of new proposals and more an attempt to sell a story of a national economy emerging from the “shadow of crisis.” He appealed for “better politics” in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans, but he showed few signs of curtailing or tweaking his own plans to meet the GOP’s platform.
Some on the left side of the aisle were impressed by the fact that the President had learned to stop negotiating with himself prior to introducing legislative ideas.
Wow! Where has that President Obama been hiding? #StateOfTheUnion
— Ford Thatford (@mrford0) January 21, 2015
The official Republican reaction to the speech was noteworthy for failures in imaging and presentation.
Newly elected Senator. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called on Obama to cooperate with Republicans, since it was obvious to her most everything else tried during the current administration had failed.
“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” Ernst said, referring to the Obama health care overhaul that Republicans loathe. “It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”
From the Associated Press account in today’s UT-San Diego:
Ernst gained attention for a campaign ad in which she spoke of her farm experience castrating pigs and vowed to use that attitude against Washington’s big spenders, saying, “Let’s make them squeal.”
She has advocated the abolition of the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency, backed a state law supporting personhood for fetuses and spoken of using her gun to defend herself against any government attempts to restrict her rights.
The Junior Senator from Iowa mixed in plenty of personal anecdotes, including one where she talked about putting bread bags over her only pair of shoes to protect them during rainy weather. Not mentioned was the time frame: given her age, this tale of woe occurred during the reign of St. Ronald Reagan.
Her speech was translated into Spanish by newly elected Cuban American Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). While Ernst, who’s on record advocating an English only approach, didn’t mention immigration, the Spanish version did include an appeal to the President to work with the GOP on reform.
Over on the far right side of the political aisle the official Tea Party Express State of the Union response given by Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) blamed undocumented immigrants for the plight of 10 million unemployed Americans and emphasized legal immigration.
Way to go Republicans, you did a great job of disrespecting the nation’s fastest growing voting block.
UPDATE: House Republicans have posted a doctored video version of the SOTU on the internet. It deletes the portions of the speech about about climate change, human rights and antisemitism.
UPDATE V2: Now that they’ve been busted, a spokesman for House Speaker Boehner says it’s a problem with YouTube. Riiight…. (If you’ve ever uploaded videos you know just how bogus this is.)
Staking a Claim
The most relevant analyses I came across portrayed the SOTU speech as an attempt to frame the national political conversation.
Here’s Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo:
He’s stymied for the remainder of his presidency by a Republican Congress wedded to a Reaganesque mentality, but the White House views the recent spate of positive economic news as an opportunity for Obama to aggressively make the “long-term” case for embracing government as an agent to help the middle class.
“This is about something bigger than 2016,” a senior Obama administration official said before the speech. “It’s like — can we change the frame of the debate, where, like Reagan was able to basically constrain the political debate around no-new-taxes and small government, we can do the same thing around an economic philosophy that invests in the middle class of the country and asks the wealthy to pay a little more. And to beat back the politics of austerity. So that’s the long-term thinking.”
Unfortunately Sapur is one of those journalists unable to differentiate between modern-day progressive and more traditional liberal agendas. The President’s speech used some progressive talking points on domestic issues. But when it came to foreign policy, Obama’s speech was grounded in American exceptionalism with distinctly neo-liberal bent. Gone was the candidate who sometimes seemed ready to question the need for intervention as a mainstay of foreign policy.
From award-winner writer Nick Turse via TomsDispatch.com:
During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries — roughly 70% of the nations on the planet — according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises.
My Favorite Part of the Evening
The President casts a little shade on the GOP rudeboys…
An Alternative SOTU Speech
For those of the cynical persuasion, here’s the speech Esquire Columnist Charles P Pierce says should have been given:
“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader, thank you for inviting me here tonight to discuss the state of our union. The state of our union is strong, and it’s all because of me, motherfkers, and no thanks to your sorry, wrinkled white asses. I did everything I could do to pull the economy out of the shallow grave your deregulatory frenzy and the two-term nitwit who preceded me dug for it. You stood there like squeaking eunuchs and blocked everything you could, and a narrow slice of the electorate gave you virtually unprecedented control over the entire national legislature. I don’t care. Your party has sold its soul and lost its mind. I’m not going anywhere. So I’m’a gonna do what I goddamn well please, because the state of our union is strong, motherfkers, and it’s all because of me. Nice to see you all again, though.”
It would have been fun to watch NBC blowhard Chuck Todd’s take on that one…
After the Speech SD Dems Sing Kumbaya
Local Dems met last night to elect a party chair, in what many thought would be a contentious contest between current chair Francine Busby and ICWJ organizer Steve Rivera…
— Gretchen Newsom (@GretchenNewsom) January 21, 2015
On This Day: 1974– Postal workers began a four-day strike at the Jersey City, N.J., bulk and foreign mail center, protesting an involuntary shift change. The wildcat was led by a group of young workers who identified themselves as “The Outlaws” 1977 – President Carter pardoned almost all Vietnam War draft evaders. 1982 – B.B. King donated his entire record collection to the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The collection included about 20,000 rare blues records.
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