For a complete transcript of the State of the Union Speech as Obama delivered it, go here.
Overall, the President was effective in retrieving the rhetorical spotlight from the doom ‘n’ gloom bunch and from the recharged Republicans, who took a huge swig of swagger from the elixir of their Massachusetts election victory.
President Obama spoke to the employment gains made through the Recovery Act, aka, “The Stimulus.”
Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.
He also took dead-aim at the people living in the bubble: the “wunderkinds” of Wall Street, Bank CEO’s, Beltway villagers, and other oblivious, narcissistic people in government and the media.
In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America — values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values that they’re living by; business values or labor values. They’re American values.
Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government — still reflect these same (American) values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. No wonder there’s so much disappointment.
Here is one proposal that seemed to get scant attention from pundits, but drew stone-cold stares from Republican lawmakers:
I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.
This seems to follow up on the grass-roots movement to move money away from the colossal banks to smaller, community banks and credit unions. Expect stiff resistance from the GOP on this one.
Then came the call to focus attention on clean energy businesses and jobs. Tucked into this proposal was the call to put an end to tax breaks for companies that take jobs outside the country. Again, there was nothing but a glacial response from Republicans:
We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.
The President’s initiatives in Afghanistan tend to gloss over, if not deny, the dismal, disappointing realities already encountered in attempting to train an Afghan security force. Here’s President Obama:
And in Afghanistan, we’re increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.
Here’s another view from Juan Cole, whose expertise on the Middle East and ongoing assessment of the goings-on in Afghanistan paint a very different picture:
Reserve Col. Lawrence Sellin, a Ph.D. and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, summarized the problems with training the Afghan army:
a. The US has already spent more than $17 bn. since 2001 building the Afghanistan National Army, but without much success.
b. Although the government of President Hamid Karzai claims that the army numbers 100,000 now, in fact some battalions are at half strength and not combat ready. The chance that the ANA can be expanded to 240,000 effective soldiers for another $16 bn. in a year or two is slim to none.
c. If a new Afghan army can be built at all, it will take at least 4 years, and it is not plausible that US troops will withdraw beginning in 2011. Moreover, Memos of US ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Kabul insist that President Hamid Karzai is unreliable and refuses to try to take command of the country, so that he is not deploying the army he already has. The profound divisions within the Obama camp, among the most experienced Afghan hands, make it anything but certain that the counter-insurgency strategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to which Obama committed himself, can succeed.
d. Veteran NBC war correspondent Richard Engel maintains that staff officers work short hours and are corrupt. Only some of the small companies of troops deployed in the countryside can effectively be said to be at war. Even these are 90% illiterate, and some have received only 2 weeks of ‘show and tell’ training. Drug use is rampant among troops, and some 25 percent go AWOL.
Why haven’t we learned the lessons taught us in Vietnam, which included the fallacy that we could go in and raise up our own version of that country’s army? How does that classic line from “Full Metal Jacket” go? “I’ll make you a deal on a genuine American M-16 rifle, ARVN issued; never been fired and only dropped once.”
The President appealed for the redevelopment of America’s nuclear energy program and called for more offshore drilling.
And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.
Safe, clean nuclear power is still an oxymoron. And this talk of new oil and gas development is merely a more eloquent way to say, “Drill, baby, drill!”
The Big Ugly came after the speech during punditry time. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews made the stunning remark that Obama’s speech was so good, “I forgot he was black.” Seriously. It’s Matthews’ penchant for popping such phrases off the top of his head (where the air must be very, very thin) that causes people to wonder things like, “what the hell is this guy doing with his own cable show?” This is the same Chris Matthews who also bubbled over when he saw George W. Bush strut around the aircraft carrier wearing his codpiece enhanced flightsuit before declaring victory in Iraq. “We’re ALL Neocons now,” he gushed. The rest of the Big Ugly came courtesy of the chattering classes dissecting the speech and its reaction.
The Big Bizarre came along as a surreal post-script in the form of the Republican response to the State of the Union address. The good news for Republicans is that they’ve come a long way from Bobby Jindahl. The weirdness, however, was in the staging of the response by newly elected Virginia governor Bob McDonnell in the chamber of the Virginia legislature. The image of a packed room, with people sitting in legislator’s desks, flanking the governor in a carefully balanced mixture of black and white faces, and breaking into applause at key points in his speech, no doubt was designed to offer up a mirror image of the State of the Union, Republican-style. “Hey, y’all! Folks get all excited and clap when McDonnell speaks too!” However, the more this alternative image flooded the TV screen, it began to seem as if the Republicans were offering up an image of an alternative government, set up in opposition to the image of government projected from Washington. Their government; of, for, and by their people. Hmmmm. Virginia. The state that held a secessionist convention soon after seven southern states had seceded to form the Confederacy. I wonder if the GOP considered this historical significance and symbolism of their stagecraft.
Based on the general reaction to Obama’s SOTU speech, it seems he may have recaptured some of the energy of his presidential campaign and galvanized folks to get busy in response to his call for action. The question becomes whether the energized can sustain that energy over time. Overall, it was a good speech, though he’ll still need to show people that he’s committed to breaking away from the Bush-era desecration of the constitution. Afghanistan may yet become his Achilles heel, as Juan Cole suggests. Gitmo remains a seemingly irremovable stain on the American character. Unemployment is at 10 percent and may hang in double digits for the foreseeable future. We are nowhere near the edge of the dark woods, we’re still in them. And it may need to get worse before it gets better.
Sorry, Mr. President, I’d like to wrap this review up on a high note, like you did in your address. I do think you’ve rejuvenated some new energy and hope. Exhibit some of the steel you showed last night in the coming days and months and you may very well keep that energy moving. You’ll need to step into the healthcare reform process in ways that get a decent bill passed and signed. What we have now just isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to use your leverage to start getting trials up and running for the detainees we’ve held for years without any sort of due process. You’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to handle your generals, especially when it comes to Afghanistan. And perhaps most importantly, you’re going to have to accept that a good number of people are going to be mad as hell and will not be appeased or defused.