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SOTU 2011
Michelle Bachmann puts the puck through the uprights for a field goal

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
January 25, 2011

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 victims.

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 bullshit.

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

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