The State of the Union was tonight. Let’s break it down:
THE GOOD: You like the Economic Populism? Obama ladled it on thick tonight. Ending the Bush Tax cuts. Restructuring the tax code. The Buffett rule. Investigating the banks for offering sub-prime loans. (The last part is a welcome surprise because there had been rumors of the Administration cutting a deal with the banks for assistance with loans in exchange for not criminal charges. Guess someone managed to explain to the President the word “Catharsis” and how it relates to the term “Perp Walk”.) You like Green Energy? We’re doubling down in that area too. Ending Oil subsidies in favor of developing clean energy industries. DOD going all in.
You like infrastructure investment?
During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.
In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.
When he said that, you know Rachel Maddow had a lady boner on the spot.
This was Obama in throw down mode. After dealing for the past year with a House filled to the brim with nihilistic tea partiers bringing things to a screeching halt, Obama made it clear that at least he was still showing up to work. At any point during those passages, he could have bought out Samuel L. Jackson and had him yell at the GOP, “How do you like me now, motherfuckers!”.
But the most impressive thing about the speech was the way Obama used Osama Bin Laden.
Yeah, it’s no surprise that he’d bring that up but it was the way he did it that was telling.
One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates – a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.
All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job – the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other – because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.
So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.
Obama chose not to use the event for empty triumphalism. (If it had happened on Bush’s watch, he would have skull fucked the corpse on the White House yard with Toby Keith playing in the background.) Instead he used it to stress the idea of teamwork.
Or to put it in movie terms, where Bush would have harkened to the action movies of the 80’s that empathized jingoistic patriotism and anchored by a single avatar of badassness, (Arnold, Sly, Bruce.) Obama went with the older style Hawksian ideal of a close knit group of professionals who lives depend on them doing their jobs well. By using this example, Obama seemed to be reminding Congress that there’s a job to be done and they need to get cracking!
THE NOT SO GOOD: Sadly, he’s coupled his investments in green energy with a rededication to offshore drilling and fracking. (Good luck with that. I lived in Northern California in the eighties and had a front row seat to the protests against drilling. Post Gulf of Mexico, it will not be easier.)
We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.
First off, I thought they already did? At least it seemed that way when I was in High School. Second. How do they intend to enforce it?
All the Middle East stuff…well, what Dr. Juan Cole said.
The Afghanistan and Iraq withdrawals, and the rolling up of al-Qaeda, were presented by Obama as the “waning of the tides of war.” That is, Obama sees himself as drawing to a close an episode of American militarism and foreign adventurism started by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Why he puts this achievement in a passive mood, almost as though he is not the one ordering it, is mysterious to me.
The problems with this way of seeing things are that
a) The tides of war are still strong in northern Pakistan, where President Obama has ordered many drone strikes; in Yemen; and etc. Obama has bought into Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of the whole world as a perpetual battlefield and the US military as a sort of large special forces unit that goes here, there and everywhere without regard for international law.
and, b) one of the big reasons that the tide of war swelled in the first place has still not been effectively addressed: The Palestinians are still being displaced and stolen from and kept stateless and without basic human rights by their Israeli wardens. Muslim radicals repeatedly cited mistreatment of the Palestinians as among their primary motives for attacking the US, but the Israel lobbies in the US have attempted to deflect attention from the reason for which US interests are attacked in the Middle East.
And “all options are on the table” for Iran is why I still eat fried food and follow porn stars on Twitter.
THE WTF: Whoever pitched that milk joke in the room should be docked a week’s pay.
There’s still plenty more to chew on but the short version is that it was a strong speech. The only question is will we see some steak with the sizzle.