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State of the Union

by on January 27, 2010

State of the Union 2010 liveblog and commentary. Or see a good livebog on Obama’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ by Andrew Sullivan

FINAL UPDATE. WITH COMMENTS DURING SPEECH BELOW THE UPDATE.
The pre-speech media hype (what I caught of it) on MSNBC was predictions, as always. And, as usual, predictions that were probably lacking. I heard MSNBC expecting a conservative speech, and one that focused on healthcare. After all, Obama is The Great Conservative, right? Elected by a fairly good lead (if not a small landslide), with a mandate to govern, if there has been one at all in the last twenty years. And elected by lots of states colored blue on the map, no matter how much he may push for a lack of blue-state red-state divide. As for healthcare, that has consumed political news cycles for … about eight months now. I guess it’s fair for the news to expect one more round of healthcare. We got that, and a bit more.
Obama began, not surprisingly, with the economy. If he is good for nothing else (and I still have hope that he is good for more) he is a master with words. The belief that progress is inevitable has led us through good times and bad, to where we are currently. It is time – this is the time, this is what this speech is for – to shape the destiny of America. After our markets crashed in September, 2008, “we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people.” Mostly. It sure sounds good. He didn’t talk about the wavering response of his presidential-election opponent, McCain. But, maybe we’ll skip that tonight. It didn’t belong in the State of the Union, but it deserves being remembered. The speech began with the economy; the sensible thing to do, if the question really is jobs, jobs, jobs, as the media likes to tell us. Jobs would be nice, really. I just can’t speak for all of America. As always, Obama is professorial. He defined his constitutional role – to address congress, at the moment – and outlined a history for his audience they all already knew. And he doesn’t expect the easy job. “These struggles are the reason I ran for president.” He can also comment on his own failures, “change has not come fast enough.” That, I believe, was the reference to Guantanamo, among other things, that the media didn’t pick up on. But maybe I’m reading in to things.
Obama wants us to be all that we can be. No, seriously. He didn’t suggest that we should all join the army (although he did say that he will work to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), but he did bluntly tell congress that Americans deserve that parties work out their differences. There’s a doctrine of Supreme Court decision-making called aspirationalism, which is the belief that all law should aspire to create the best society (as opposed to a society in line with the constitution as the framers meant it, or other specific doctrines). Take aspirationalism slightly out of context, into a legislative role, and that’s what Obama (lightly) pushed congress to do. There’s an American spirit to want to succeed. Hope! “It’s time that the American people get a government that matches their decency, that embodies their strength”. He wants to move on to how to govern, and says so. Obama, as I said, is professorial. He will tell you the next topic, give you time to finish taking notes on his previous thought, and allow filler time to catch up. He promised, while campaigning, to do what was “not just proper, but necessary.” Nice constitutional reference (if you’re looking, that’s Art I, Sect. 8, cl. 18. Is it scary that I know that without looking?). We’ve recovered most of the money we spent on banks. But not all of it, he emphasized. I just have the easy job of coding emphasis into those words. So, his necessary move was to add a $1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) deficit to our economy last year. (Just as a sadistic thought, wouldn’t it have been interesting if we hadn’t bailed out lots of companies, and just let them fail. That would really teach them not to screw up). And as his next necessary move, he proposed a fee on banks! They can afford to pay back the taxpayers.
Allow me a brief detour, which Obama created in his speech, to address the issue of why we have government. That is a topic for several other posts and many volumes of writings. However, Obama moved the conversation from proposing a fee on banks – that did not need much time to address, he simply said he would do it – to what he has done in the last year for the economy. Forget Geithner, Bernanke, Orszag, and everyone else for a moment. Actually, remember them, but in your periphery, perhaps. The purpose of government, John Stuart Mill will be only too happy to tell you, is to assure people liberty and to do all things for collective well-being that people can’t do on their own. I can’t levy taxes on myself (actually, I’d like to figure out a way to do that and make money off myself), I can’t very well provide for my own defense, and I can’t regulate currency or international or interstate commerce. So, if Obama and his economic advisers, who are smart even if I don’t agree with them, believe they have some ideas about taxes and deficit-reduction, it is my role to let them come up with rational solutions. That’s why they exist (at least, as part of a large institution). I get to question, cajole, and disagree, but they have some duty to try to provide for the common good. Therefore, since Obama outlined his tax cuts and changes over the last year, it is my part to accept that what he did was with good intention.
There were some good examples of people with success stories. It was also nice that Obama didn’t bombard us with these stories, and only gave a few. He promised that jobs are the number one focus this year, with a new jobs bill. Not surprising, given all the hype this last week. But nice, very nice. Much better than focusing on Abdulmutallab (some of the news organizations did right after the Speech). Obama encouraged entrepreneurs and business success – I don’t think any sane president would discourage entrepreneurs in America. But the problem, Obama said (and I’m glad he mentioned this) is that, even with credit flowing, banks are lending to bigger companies, not smaller, new, ones. Obama said he’s taking money that big banks (the big four, really) are paying back after being bailed out, and giving that money straight to community banks. Your dream, Huffington Post! And Obama promises tax reduction for all new businesses. Much more important than it sounds.
What’s in the jobs bill? Glad you asked; I’m having fun typing this. The answer: domestic jobs. Actually, domestic jobs, that can’t be outsourced. Something Obama has been promising for a while. I don’t doubt that he means it; jobs can’t just magically appear and it’s only been a year. I think the idea is a nice one. Jobs that focus on one of Obama’s priorities, transportation. Money for high-speed railroad. Hey, sign me up to be a conductor. I’d love it. So, jobs for building a transportation network and for green energy (and, apparently, nuclear energy. It was a strange addition to the speech. But there is was.). We should not complain that action is slow, as long as he believes their should be progress. Every once in a while, Obama gave congress a little verbal kick. “How long should we wait? How long should we put our future on hold?” Just for … actually, I don’t know how long, Mr. President. Until we reach our fiftieth president? But that might not work. After all, “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”
This led to a discussion of the international economy, and America’s falling, failing, place in the world. Goal: protecting the economy. Method: reform, and innovation – research funding. Energy, energy, always energy. Nuclear power, as I mentioned. Which seems strange, coming from an administration dedicated to reducing nuclear stockpiles. I know there’s a difference between domestic and international, and weapon-grade and nuclear-for-power, but still…. And off-shore oil. I’m sorry to see congress so divided that this is one of the few things Republicans clapped for for the first two-thirds of the speech. Even more sadly, clean coal. Obama wants clean coal. Show me some coal that’s clean. I don’t want to disparage him exactly, but these are ways to deal with current issues, not future ones. I mean, these issues are already here. Which is great, if you want oil for the next generation of car-drivers. What happens after that? The nice part, I thought, was a concentration on an export economy. For those of you that know what used to be compared to what is, you know that America used to make things. We used to be a production economy. I’m not a great person for working in a factory, but for those people who are … wouldn’t it be great to have a factory to make things in? The goal? Double our exports over the next five years.
Strangely, this segues nicely into education. After all, to run a factory, it’s nice to have educated people. Here’s what I got out of it, although there was more: A $10,000 tax credit for four years of college. And reducing the debt that students owe for years to ten percent of their monthly income for a maximum of twenty years, ten if they choose to be public servants. “No one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
Speaking of people going broke. Housing and health insurance. Here comes the hard, boring, part that everyone wants to hear. Healthcare. Childhood obesity. A good topic, since most kids will be home eating tv-dinners while their parents watch the State of the Union. And now, the real healthcare talk? Do you like your plan? Keep it. Do you like your doctor? Keep him/her, and take him/her home with you. Do you have a healthcare plan? Or are you one of those 30,000,000-50,000,000 (gee, it looks bigger that way, doesn’t it?) people who doesn’t have healthcare? Republicans love you, but if you get sick … just listen to Alan Grayson. According to the Office of Management and Budget, healthcare could reduce deficit by one trillion dollars over two decades.
Why are we where we are, economically? Remember Bush, Clinton, and Bush? I do – vaguely. In 2000, we had surplus of $200 billion. In 2008, we had deficit of trillion a year, eight trillion projected for deficit. Note the difference between the billion and trillion. Ouch. And what about the necessary as well as proper role of the president (by the way, the president is assigned neither a necessary nor proper role in the constitution, beyond signing or not signing laws, and commander-in-chief. Different than issues here)? Obama wants to remind you that he took office during a crisis. That he added a trillion dollars to the deficit – says this is right thing to do – although he didn’t want to. What’s necessary and proper now? The federal government will cut spending. Like it or not, and the blogosphere has lots to say about it, a spending freeze starting in 2011. Social security, national security, healthcare, will not be affected. I have some issues with not cutting defense spending. Other people will take issue with not cutting social security spending. We’ll compromise and not cut either. Also part of the solution, tax cuts, but none for those with over $250,000 a year. The Republicans were … well, they didn’t applaud this suggestion. I’m going to not comment. I don’t have any good suggestions for the Republicans at the moment, and they don’t have any either.
Obama’s ideas are nothing new. They are, however, long out of style. They’re good ideas, like ‘invest in the people;’ there’s nothing wrong with that idea. It is, after all, “Common sense.” But we have a failing system – and Obama recognizes this – that doesn’t want to expend the effort to invest in the people. There are doubts about how well Washington works. Outlining transparency and fairness, that may or may not be there, Obama mentioned the lack of lobbyists on important committees. A nice thing, certainly. And something that either was booed by a Republican, who wants lobbyists on committees deciding policies, or was booed by a Democrat, with fairly bad timing. It was hard to tell. Much better was that Justice Alito said that’s not true when Obama slammed the Supreme court for Citizens United. Obama – and frankly, the rest of us – are a little tired of the ‘hostage-taking’ in congress. The essence of democracy is debate between parties about how best to govern the nation, for reasons I mentioned earlier about the role of government. “Leave behind fear and division, and do what it takes to protect this nation,” and he’s not only speaking of national security.
He is, however, speaking of national security. Remember his campaign promises? I remember three. He would end the war in Iraq, he would pursue Afghanistan, he would do whatever else is necessary under his role as commander-in-chief to keep the nation secure. He’s still promising an end to Afghanistan in July, 2011. I’m glad it will only take us twice the length of World War II, and the length of Vietnam, to end a war we do not need. I’m just as glad we’re ending just as useless a war in Iraq – he says we are – by August this year. “This war is ending, and all our troops are coming home.” I’ve read, and I apologize that I can’t find it right now, that American academics in foreign-policy role-played a nuclear discussion game between Iran and America, and America lost (according to current stated goals) every time. That said, Obama is continuing to pursue Iran and the nuclear weapons issue. I can’t imagine a better strategy than the one he has.
Inspirational and professorial. The philosopher-king has come to the City on the Hill. Change isn’t easy. Change isn’t meant to be done by Obama alone. “The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were not afraid to do what is right, what is hard.” I cannot imagine how the right-wing continues to fight Obama. He professes – he always has – a love of the decency, and determination of American people. I don’t understand how you can fight a person who considers you decent. You can disagree, I hope you do, but to fight, to fight without end, to fight for the sake of fighting? That I cannot understand. “The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives in on in you, the American people.”

There is more to be said. There is always more to be said. But this is enough for now. There was a formal response minutes later by McConnell. I don’t mean to ignore the response. But I think I’ve said enough, for now.

Thanks for reading along, and I’ll have comments, grand and small, in a bit. Good luck maintaining hope until his next speech.

Fox:
lack of tax raises.
not sure about Obama’s optimism, because people might not be as optimistic as Obama.
didn’t see the same humility about healthcare as Clinton showed in ’95.
“McConnell looked like a star, especially compared to Jindal”
‘there is common ground – energy, education’ (Fox Juan Williams response to McConnell)
Obama did nicely concentrating on international competition
Obama never mentioned Guantanamo Bay

MSNBC responds:
didn’t seem left-wing (Maddow)
Republicans began to respond [favorably] as the speech progressed
“there’s nothing there that’s news” (in response to GOP response by Bob McConnell)

7:20 PDT
THE END

7:16 PDT
Losing hope, when people betray our system. Understandable disappointment.
Believing in change? Change isn’t easy. Obama can’t do it alone. But there’s no putting it off for the next generation.
“The only reason we are here is because generation of Americans were not afraid to do what is right, what is hard.”
Determination, activism, decency of American people.
“The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives in on in you, the American people.”

7:11 PDT
Bioterrorism prevention, linking this statement with that what we do is right.
We always stand on the side of human dignity and morals. Ignore for a moment Gitmo Suicides, black sites.
“If you abide by the laws, you should be protected by it.”
Working to repeal DADT
Immigration system improvement.

7:05 PDT
Afghanistan; homeland security. Troops home by July ’11.
Iraq: our troops home by August, 2010! Woot! “This war is ending, and all our troops are coming home.”
Responsibility to support veterans when they come home.
Threat of nuclear weapons. We are reducing our stockpiles, along with Russia. I completely agree, but find it strange he wants domestic nuclear power plants. I understand he means domestic, meant for power, but still find it odd.
Iran and nuclear weapons. They will face consequences, he says. Eh?

7:02 PDT
Reminds Democrats that people expect them to solve problems. Disses, for lack of a better word at the moment, Republicans for obstructionism just because.
Everyone loves this country. “Leave behind fear and division, and do what it takes to protect this nation” – and he’s not only speaking of national security.

6:55 PDT
Time to try something new! Invest in the people. “Common sense.” Doubts about how [well] Washington works.
(I wonder who booed banning lobbyists from being on committees, and why they booed)
Obama bashes the Supreme Court a bit for Citizens United.
He calls on Congress to publish all donations, etc., online.
Essence of democracy; debate between parties. But ‘hostage-taking’ not acceptable.

6:49 PDT
Massive fiscal hole. Government spending. In 2000, we had surplus of $200 billion. In 2008, we had deficit of trillion a year, eight trillion projected for deficit.
Took office during crisis. Added one trillion to deficit – says this is right thing to do.
Federal government to cut spending.
To pay for trillion, freeze government spending starting in 2011. Social security, national security, healthcare, will not be affected.
Tax cuts, but none for those with over $250,000 a year.
Return to surpluses in 1990’s.

6:43 PDT
Segue to the housing market. Including health insurance reform, because this means people would be able to keep or by houses.
And jokes about politics. Good. Politicians need to laugh too.
And a really interesting transition to childhood obesity. His kids probably don’t need to worry about that :).
OK, healthcare:
Ability to keep plan. Do you have one? 😮
According to the OMB, healthcare could reduce deficit by one trillion dollars over two decades.
Considered an improvement over the status quo (by doctors, nurses)

6:38 PDT
Education! Yay! Actually, I like an attempt to improve education. Like all things that are not adequate at the status quo, an attempt to improve is a great start.
Community programs.
College and affordability. $10,000 tax credit for four years of college. And reducing the debt that students owe for years.
“No one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”

6:33 PDT
Protecting the economy. I’m glad he’s a combination of a pragmatist and an optimist.
And reform. And innovation – research funding.
Nuclear power plants? Interesting segue.
Offshore oil considerations?
“Clean coal.”?
Clean energy. That, at least, is an interesting idea.
I don’t want to disparage him exactly, but these are ways to deal with current issues, not future ones. I mean, these issues are already here.
Export economy. Double our exports over the next five years. Back to a production economy?

6:28 PDT
High speed railroad, and a focus on domestic, not-outsourced jobs. This is what the jobs bill is about.
Obama says we need a new foundation for economy. Not an unsurprising statement. But good to hear. We should not complain that action is slow, as long as he believes their should be progress.
“How long should we wait? How long should we put our future on hold?”
“I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

6:24 PDT
Success stories, and other stories. Jobs are the number one focus this year, with a new jobs bill. Not surprising, given all the hype this last week. But nice, very nice. Entrepreneurs and business success.
Banks are lending to bigger companies, not smaller, new, ones.
Money flowing straight to community banks. Your dream, HuffPo!
Tax reduction for all new businesses. Much more important than it sounds.

6:20 PDT
Review of tax cuts created over last year. I don’t pretend to understand all the tax cuts, such as mortgages, and that’s why we have a government – it is their job to figure out how to improve life for as many of us as possible (etc.).

6:15 PDT
Americans deserve that we work through our differences. Aspirationalism, taken slightly out of context. And audacity. An American spirit to want to succeed. Hope! “It’s time that the American people get a government that matches their decency, that embodies their strengh”.
He wants to move on to how to govern, and says so.
Not just proper, but necessary. Nice constitutional reference. We’ve recovered most of the money we spent on banks.
He proposes fee on banks! They can afford to pay back the taxpayers. That would be nice (unsdertatement + sarcasm)

6:11 PDT
Destiny of America. Tempting to view progress as inevitable. “We chose to move forward as one nation, as one people,” after market crash in 2008. He begins with economy. He is such a professor. Not that that’s bad. Beginning with history, what we already know. “These struggles are the reason I ran for president.” “Change has not come fast enough.”

6:07 PDT
Chris Matthews is blabbering about anger and filling the air with noise, because silence is BAD. Democrats v. Republicans?
Matthews, Olbermann, Maddow, having a three-way (dialogue) about Republican (lack-of) policy.
6:10 PDT
KICKOFF by Pelosi! Just kidding, I hate sports-politics analogies.

6:02PM PDT
Biden and Pelosi. She’s not clapping like a seal yet. (Then again, Obama isn’t onstage yet.)
Hey Mr. President, don’t make us wait for you any longer….
Pres. Obama enters at 6:06. Good luck everyone.

6:00PM PDT
Watching MSNBC
Orszag and all the other advisors enter, STAGE CENTER
Health reform, health reform, health reform, say Maddow and Olbermann.
And look for a conservative speech.

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