(Written within an hour or so of the event.)
Very good speech, Mr. President, as one frequent public speaker to another. The delivery was great, and I liked the content too. It was all Mom and Apple Pie and the American Flag. One could wonder who would object to any of it, although many have already objected to much of it.
The tension remains the war between Wall Street and Main Street. Between those who feel like America is composed of its people, its society and its culture (not many of them anymore, and almost no Republicans) and those who feel like America is composed of its large corporations, Wall Street and the rich. Kudos or objections were raised exactly along these lines.
What Did The President Say?
Mr. Obama started off with a general pep-talk about the current state of the economy. There are many positives to point to. Better growth rates have returned . . . “fasted growth since 1999!” A little dig there. And a hint about common purpose being better than factionalized politics, a call-back to the big finish.
He specifically mentioned the energy situation (traditional and non-traditional domestic production way up), education (more graduates at all levels) and health care (many more people now insured) He mentioned that the deficit is way down, which he can definitely take a lot of credit for, and that Wall Street is riding high, which is probably more due to their self-directed goals and record keeping.
In a real Main Street moment, Mr. Obama spoke of middle-class economics, policies that are designed to strengthen the middle-class. He praised historical successes in this area, things that came about almost entirely because of the efforts of Democratic administrations. New Deal stuff, Social Security, workers’ rights, Civil Rights, Medicare and yes, the ACA (the so-called Obamacare).
“Middle-class economics works . . . we need to restore the link between hard work and opportunity.”
During this recitation, the Republican members of congress sat quietly in a state of impending stroke. They were breathless, struggling to maintain their composure. John “Boner” Boener slumped in his chair, his growing anger showing in his deeply knit brow and chin.
The president next went through a list of ways that the middle-class needs help right now:
1. Child care is a necessity, and families need help. This should be a “national priority.” Families need more affordable child care slots, and tax credits could help a lot;
2. Sick leave and maternity leave. We’re alone in the developed world in not providing these things to all workers. All workers should get seven paid sick days per year. (Amazingly, they currently do not);
3. Equal pay for women. “It’s 2015, people!”
4. Raise the minimum wage;
5. Unions give workers a voice, and they should be encouraged. Not just by government action, employers need to get on board;
6. Free community college! 40% of college students start out in community college. Tennessee provides it, under Republican leadership, so why not all agree and make it happen?
7. Student loan relief. This was only a vague reference to this huge problem, and the only suggestion was that we come up with “ways to reduce the size of payments;”
8. Help returning veterans. “Hire a vet!”
9. Rebuilding infrastructure. This was a dream list in the form of a jobs program;
10. Encourage innovation. On the Internet, in the area of prosthetic limbs, in the energy and manufacturing sectors. (He didn’t mention Wall Street, I guess he feels like they’re innovating enough already.)
How are we to pay for all of this? According to the president, and I agree, the tax code as currently constituted is “rigged by lobbyists” to favor the top earners and large corporations. “We need to stop up some of these unproductive loopholes.” Trade agreements designed to bring jobs back to the U.S. would help too.
And the big enchilada: a new tax on accumulated wealth! I’m all for this, of course. The wealth of the top 0.01% will sit unproductively and eventually suck all of the air out of the room unless we do something about it. Believe me, they don’t need the little bit of money that any possible legislation will deny them.
Here came the first mention of terror. Mr. Obama’s emphasis was on the need to avoid blustery, big ticket non-solutions like military action. “We stand with our allies around the world, from Pakistan to Paris. ISIL? Bad. Russian aggression? Bad. ISIL might even require the application of non-specified force.
But Cuba? “Our policy of sanctions against Cuba is long past its use-by date.” Makes a lot of sense. The point was, it’s been fifty years now, maybe it’s time to try something new?
How about Iran? Nobody wants a nuclear armed Iran, but sanctions are preferable to military intervention. The sanctions now in place may need to be reduced, and he’ll veto any new ones. And war, in general, must be only a last resort.
The president quoted Pope Francis: Diplomacy is a process of small steps. Keep taking them and you’ll get there.
Hackers bad!!! We need a coordinated protective effort. With a nod to Main Street in the form of preventing identity theft.
Climate Change is real!!! 2014 was the hottest year on record, capping off the last fourteen years as the hottest years on record. So the president thinks that this is a real thing. “Many say that the debate is ongoing, and that efforts to reduce global climate change are not necessary at this time. They say, ‘I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know.’ Well I’m not a scientist either, but I know a lot of good scientists!” And they all agree, you know that they do. He mentioned that even the Pentagon agrees! We can all agree that the Pentagon is not a collection of science loving Liberals. So international action is a good idea, and we’re already cooperating with China on the issue, and the smaller world economies are coming along.
Condemn discrimination!!! We need to discourage anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hysteria, and to confront religious discrimination wherever we find it. Also anti-gay discrimination, etc.
Gitmo!!! Time to close it down. All it does is generate anti-American feelings and more terrorists.
Too much surveillance!!! But only the briefest mention, and a call for protecting privacy.
The president finished up with a very heartfelt call for more dialog and cooperation in Washington politics. He acknowledged that cynicism might be tempting at this point, after so many years of divisive politics, but he condemned it as useless and counterproductive.
In a rare nod to the prevailing insanity, he pointed out that “some say that it is ironic that a black president has somehow engendered more division between the races.” He gave a little dig to those “who profit from division.” No (well deserved) excoriation here, just the occasional gentle nod.
He asked that people recall that there has been real progress over the last seven years or so, giving gay rights as an example. Good example too, because that issue has been coming along nicely, and the push has come from ordinary, good hearted people, and churches, and the push has not come only from the affected community. So, he suggests, there’s a lot of good brotherhood going on.
The suggestion being that Washington can learn a lot from Main Street.
He generously allowed that there are good people “on both sides of the aisle,” and suggested that we need to debate issues and facts like reasonable people, “considering people’s daily lives.”
“We need to lift people up, not tear each other down.”
There’s plenty that we can agree on. Whichever side of the abortion debate you’re on we can all agree that in terms of raw numbers abortions are way down and that’s a good thing. There should be a lot to agree on regarding immigration reform because we are a nation of immigrants after all.
We should be agreeing on lots of things, we should be, but we’re not. Can we not agree that the right to vote is sacred, and should be protected? Lots of disagreement on that simple point right now, and the right to vote is under attack in many states. (Ed. Comment, “from certain circles.”)
We need, the president says, a better politics.
And now the big laugh line. Mr. Obama pointed out that there will be no more campaigns for him, and he was thereupon interrupted by applause from the Republican side. Without missing a beat, he turned to them and said, “I know, because I won both of them!” This was met by general laughter. At least no one called out, “you lie!” when he was talking about the good things that have been happening.
And the end of the speech, “so, Republicans, let’s talk, let’s work together to make the United States strong. Let’s be the UNITED States of America. (And the God bless, etc.)
There were at least twenty Republican responses, with everybody trying to get into the act. The official Republican response was delivered by Joni Ernst, the new senator from Iowa. Instead of referencing the speech itself, she chose to give a stiff reading of Republican talking points, enlivened only by a long description of just how awfully poor she and all of her friends were back in small town Iowa, you know, in the 1970’s or something, and just how hard all of their real American, white parents had to work to get them new shoes or something, without ever asking for help from the government.
It was a typical “Fuck Main Street” response.
The problem, it turns out, is Washington excess in the form of big spending and regulation of business, with a special mention for the hated “Obamacare.”
But now that the Republicans are in, things will be different! She claims that Republicans will create jobs for a change, like she hasn’t noticed that it’s happening already, and she doesn’t recall that more jobs were created under Bill Clinton. How, pray tell, will Republicans create these jobs.
You know already. The Keystone Pipeline! She called it the Keystone Job Creation Program or some new euphemism like that. Obama just wants to block it! He doesn’t want jobs!
They’ll break down trade barriers! (No specifics.)
They’ll simplify the tax code! She wants lower tax rates! We know what they mean by that too.
Lower echelons will pay more; higher ups will pay less.
They’ll defend life! (No specifics, but you can imagine the effect on women and families.)
They’ll repeal Obamacare! Because it’s so terrible for everyone, with everyone being dropped from their (useless and illusory) policies, and everybody’s rates going up.
Dream on, honey, in your wooden, clueless manner.
For a big finish, she swung into big mentions of our brave veterans and soldiers and the great American people, because “America is the greatest country in History!” And of course, God Bless America!
Perhaps Mr. Obama was a tough act to follow. If this was the best that the Republicans could do, it becomes even more amazing that so many people keep voting for them.
So, to recap:
We have a Democratic president paying eloquent lip service to Main Street while avoiding any real mention of Wall Street running amok, or the Pentagon using up all of our treasure for the benefit of their friends, or our precious Constitutional Rights continuing to be eroded, or a few other terrible things that I’ll think of within ten minutes.
And we have a Republican response that just trots out the same old tired bullshit about cutting taxes, deregulating business, supporting religious values, and destroying the safety net. Trickle Down redux on the way to a poverty stricken theocracy, and all hail Wall Street and the rich.