The Real State of the Union (January 25, 2011)

Tonight’s much anticipated address by President Barack Obama, almost four weeks into the New Year, is a huge test for our Commander-in-Chief. However, unlike last year, the rub isn’t his ability to withstand peanut gallery heckling (House Republican Joseph Wilson’s famous “You lie!” sneer). Rather, a large section of the American public, myself included, is looking to assess Obama’s ability to keep it real – to look that camera straight in the eye and drop all the b.s. about the nation’s “exceptionalism” and “competitive advantage.” We need the President, struggling with staff overturn and the formulation of an agenda for the final two years of his term, to level with his constituents, to give voice to the hard truths that so many of us have experienced for too long.

We are a nation at a crossroads. Despite the amassing of record corporate profits during the last two years, unemployment numbers remain puzzlingly and consistently high. State governments continue to slide into insolvency, and once stable jobs in the public sector (teachers, first responders, etc) are vanishing in unprecedented droves. We don’t need a cheerleader to sell us the “everything’s looking up!” routine. Things are definitely on the upswing for CEOs, for the NYSE, but not for us. We want to know why this happened and we don’t want to hear it from Timothy Geithner. We deserve to know how to fix our structural weaknesses so we never find ourselves victimized by them again, and to experience comfort in the form of a solid plan of action. It’s not permissible to kick the can down the curb anymore, leaving the hard decisions to future administrations. It’s not fine to play the role of the soothing parent. We are adults and we know we’re hurt. I think Mr. Obama’s poll numbers ought to be the first hint that we don’t believe the “measurable growth” fairy tale.

There is still too much rightful insecurity on Main Street. Millions have been out of work for periods of a year or longer. Those of us who have been lucky enough to secure new employment often find it to be of the contract or temporary kind, transient and without livable wages and benefits. We have no idea if the health care overhaul passed last summer to such tremendous fanfare and Tea Party howling will be overturned before the close of 2011. This is not an exercise in political gamesmanship. There are real stakes involved. It’s hard to formulate a five month plan, let alone a five year one, immersed in so much uncertainty.

I am certainly no defeatist. There is a time and place in tonight’s address for a celebration of our progress, to acknowledge how far we’ve come from the days of late 2008 when it seemed entirely possible that American economic and political relevancy could go the way of the Edsel. However, keep that sort of self-congratulation to a minimum. This is the first generation to fare more poorly than the previous in terms of wage growth, home ownership and educational opportunity. Let’s talk about how we arrived here, and what we’re going to do in the next 24 months to help the once-thriving middle class get back on the road to dignity and prosperity.

State of the Union (January 28, 2010)

obama-state-of-the-union

I listened to every moment of the President’s address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal “conservative” George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that’s what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, “I don’t trust government, but I do trust Obama.” I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President’s address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama’s address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship – that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie’s hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy’s mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century’s answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?