As SOTUs go, Obama's 2011 version was fairly unremarkable, He didn't
announce he was selling out on Social Security, instead indicating that
he would veto privatization efforts. The Republican response was better
than most such, with Paul Ryan managing not to be a hyper buffoon like
Bobby Jindal, or a badly embalmed Mr. Burns (most of the rest of the GOP).
During the SOTU, the entertainment came from watching the expressions on
the faces of Vice President Biden, who uses the shit-eating grin much
the same way that Han Solo uses a laser rifle, and John Boehnner, who
looked distinctly weepy and orange as Obama congratulated him on being
speaker, and later, when Obama pointed out that Boehnner had come up
from sweeping factory floors to become Speaker. By then, my wife and I
were chanting, “Make him cry! Make him cry!” at Obama.
One curious note: unlike most other members of Congress, Boehnner wasn't
wearing the ubiquitous black-and-white ribbon for the Tucson shooting
But for real Bring Out the Crazy, Michelle Bachmann stole the show. The
feed was transmitted over the NY Times, and the geniuses at Fox News
apparently didn't bother to tell Bachmann or any of her aides that the
pre-speech prep and post speech moments were on live feed, being viewed
by thousands and perhaps millions of people. There weren't any “live
mike” moments, but none were needed. Even before she opened her mouth,
Bachmann looked amateurish and inept.
During the speech, she never once took her eyes off the teleprompter. I
kept wanting to look over my left shoulder to see who she was talking
to. It was bizarre.
Supposedly, she was late to the studio because she got caught behind the
President's motorcade. She couldn't have set up a camera and backdrop in
her own office?
The speech itself was Teabagger loony, with her trying to blame Obama
for the 2009 budget deficit (which was Bush's, and already scored to
come in at about $1.25 trillion in the hole three weeks before Obama
even took office), and the huge rise in unemployment between January,
2008, and December of 2009, with no mention that most of the increase
occurred during 2008 and early 2009. In other words, the usual recipe of
bare-faced lies wrapped in patriotism and piety, the usual Teabagger
Oddly enough, the Tea Party website didn't carry her speech, instead
airing a CNN discussion panel about what Obama said.
Ah, Teabaggers. I watch them, and I wonder how many of them are going to
come piling out of that little car.
There is little to say about Obama's speech. It was very light on
specifics, even by SOTU standards, and the tone seemed to suggest that
he was going to simultaneously work closer with Republicans while
rejecting some of their more strident demands.
One of my favorite lines came early in the speech, when Obama said, “Our
free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not
always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout
history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and
inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds
for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer
chips and GPS. “
It's something the Teabaggers and most Republicans don't get: the free
market system absolutely needs government to take care of things that
private enterprise isn't geared up to handle. This includes unprofitable
items, such as infrastructure, schools, medical care, and research. Most
of that “basic research” is done at universities, which are a cumulation
of infrastructure, schools, medical care and research. The people who
consider schooling, research, and infrastructure a waste of money are
shortsighted fools, what the British call penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Corporations don't want to spend billions on “pie-in-the-sky,” and they
won't. They profit from good schools, good roads, sewer systems and
healthy employees, but they don't want to pay for them.
The other day, I wondered how many millions of jobs in the US depended
directly from the mere existence of the interstate highway system. Obama
must have considered the same thing, because his next remark was, “Just
think of all the good jobs – from manufacturing to retail – that have
come from those breakthroughs.”
Obama did set one goal: “by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come
from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want
nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need
them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make
it happen. “
Commendable, but will someone please tell the man there is no such thing
as “clean coal”? -- it's the same old filthy coal we've been burning
right along, putting the same amounts of CO2 and toxins into the air,
going back to the good old days when caveman Ugg discovered the shiny
black rocks that didn't taste very good would burn. “Clean coal” is just
dirty coal with a PR makeover.
After praising good teachers and generally opposing bad teachers, Obama
said, “Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in
our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of
undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their
parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag,
and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here
from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as
they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against
us. It makes no sense.” Republicans sat and looked grim, partly because
they needed to play to the bigots back home, and partly because it's
hard to claim American exceptionalism when your best students are from
some place else. But Obama was right to say it.
Following some generally sensible generalities about the national
infrastructure, which included the odd promise that eighty percent of
Americans would have access to high-speed rail – who are the unlucky
20%? – he said, “Within the next five years, we will make it possible
for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless
coverage to 98% of all Americans. This isn't just about a faster
internet and fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of
America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or
Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell
their products all over the world” He gets it: the internet really is
the 21^st century equivalent of the interstate system, something that
creates millions of jobs just by existing. It's worth dumping money in
it to make it faster, safer, and more reliable.
Obama vowed to lower the corporate tax rate, which pleased Republicans,
and pay for it by closing some of the loopholes that allowed petroleum
companies and others to skate without paying a dime. Republicans weren't
so pleased with that, and Joe Barton is doubtlessly drafting another
apology to BP even as I type.
One proposal he made was pure cheesecake: he said “starting this year,
we will freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This
would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade,
and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy
since Dwight Eisenhower was president.” I suspect he was triangulating a
bit, coopting some teabagger stances. Hopefully he wasn't serious; it's
the sort of thing you always hear from morons who truly believe we can
eliminate the deficit if we eliminate foreign aid, and stop paying
people money to work.
He tempered it by adding “Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments
in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by
removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but
it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.”. Boehnner was
probably the only member of Congress who didn't at least grin at that.
His best line came after about an hour, when he was starting to move
into the Bill Clinton range for bloviation. He said, “And if we truly
care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of
the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money
away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should
ask millionaires to give up their tax break.
It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting
America's success. “
For some reason, Republicans didn't get up and cheer. Quite a few
Democrats didn't, either. No surprise, given that about 40% of the House
and 90% of the Senate are among the wealthiest 2% of Americans, and far
too many of the rest hope to join that elite after they leave office and
can cash in with the corporations they help now.
Just as well Scalia and Thomas weren't there. Such disrespect for their
masters would have upset them terribly.
Posted: January 28, 2011