A Regruntled Democrat on the State of the Union

“How quickly things change” was the first line in my disgruntled introduction to President Obama’s State of the Union Speech last year.

One year ago, Obama was failing in every policy initiative I cared about. Healthcare was on life support from incessant Republican attacks. The war in Afghanistan was scaling up while Iraq stagnated. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell lingered. There had been no financial regulation to counterbalance the wave of bailouts. I was downright pissed.

But what did Obama do? He passed healthcare legislation that, for all its shortcomings, reflects some real progress towards extending coverage. Combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell finally ended (pending implementation). Congress passed sweeping financial reforms that are, by most rational accounts, a substantial step in the right direction. Impressive.

So how did America respond to these resounding achievements? Obama’s popularity tanked and the Republicans took back the House on a Tea Party movement that swings wildly back and forth between being embarrassingly inept and outright dangerous. Worse, the idiot parade is on a collision course with the 2012 Presidential Election.

I suspect the media, which conjures up news stories out of bullshit, has something to do with the divide between reality and the general perception of Obama’s performance.

Luckily, even Americans will take time out of their busy evenings to watch the State of the Union. I’m hoping the President can communicate the accomplishments he’s made — especially since I don’t expect new ones anytime soon with a GOP-controlled House.

My bold prediction for this year’s speech? Less emphasis on offshore oil drilling.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times


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Thoughts on the speech:

To some extent, Obama’s critics are right: he is a very different president than people thought he would be back in 2008. Given the disastrous state of the country at the time and the fever-pitch excitement surrounding his election, this was probably inevitable. And yet, Obama is faced with two approaches: tell America what it wants to hear (aka using positive rhetoric while recklessly running up massive debt) or tell them the truth (aka getting run out of office for having the balls to point out crippling long-term problems). I think people genuinely expected the former from Obama, but he has pretty consistently kept his post-election rhetoric grounded and somber. This State of the Union –like last years– used language plainly directed at the average American. Other than a borrowed line from RFK and his vague instruction to “win the future” (better than the alternative, I suppose), Obama stuck pretty close to the script: identify problems, propose some general solutions, congratulate the American people on being the American people, and tie a ribbon on it with some anecdotes. There was nothing particularly exceptional here, but goddamn it feels good that it’s not George W. Bush up there.

With that said, let’s jump right into the major topics of discussion:

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“Kim, I’m gay.”

Stephanie Bell, a friend that Josh and I know through college debate, posted this beautifully-written and touching open letter to Kim Pearson, a sponsor of the bill in the Iowa House to amend the Constitution to ban not only gay marriage, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. Pearson, incidentally, is also one of the three newly-elected Republican state representatives drafting articles of impeachment against the remaining four Iowa Supreme Court justices (who were not removed in the last election). This is retaliation against that Court for unanimously upholding a ruling in 2009 that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

Steph, a Des Moines native, babysat her neighbor Kim Pearson’s kids when she was in middle school. I excerpted my favorite parts of the letter below, and I encourage everyone to read the full letter, here.

Dear Kim,

This is your former neighbor, Stephanie Bell, writing you from a long ways away—Oxford, England, to be specific. I hope this letter finds you, Bryan, Monica, and Morgan well. I know it’s been a long time since we were last in touch, but my mother suggested I reach out to you and let you know what I’ve been up to since you knew me as a middle schooler, over a decade ago…

You may be wondering why, over a decade down the road, I decided to contact you with what I’ve been up to and my meditations on and pride in my home state of Iowa. Part of it is to congratulate you on your election to the House, and to thank you for serving our state. And the other part of it is to make a plea, from one good neighbor to another.

Kim, I’m gay. I figured it out in the middle of my senior year of high school, and I stayed in the closet until I graduated. I adored Valley, but I also knew it wasn’t the most tolerant of places. My life was running too smoothly to rock the boat. I was so honored when I was elected to speak at graduation and I was on friendly terms with nearly everyone in my class. I was afraid all of that would end if I came out. I told my mother before I left for college, and I waited two years before telling my dad because I was so worried about how he would react…

Coming out to my parents was hardly easy, but thankfully, they know what I know: that I’m the same person I was before I realized I was gay. I have the same sense of humor, the same love for my family and sense of responsibility toward them. My relationships with my parents and sister are stronger than they’ve ever been. The fact that the one time in my short life I was in love, I was in love with a woman has done nothing to change my personality, or my belief in the value of service that I know you and I share. I remain the same good neighbor—to you, and to the world—that I’ve always been. I thought Iowa understood this too.

How The Other Side Thinks

Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the White House this week. Much of the focus was on economic issues like currency manipulation, protecting intellectual property, and lifting the Chinese government preference for contracting only Chinese companies in aerospace and renewable energy fields. The goodwill between our nations was symbolized by a $45 billion export package. Obama addressed human rights only toward the end of his press conference remarks, prioritizing trade, global and regional security, environmental issues, and nuclear proliferation. Predictably, Hu focused on the latter, and discussed human rights only in terms of national sovereignty.

The media, on the other hand, zeroed-in on rights. Only two American reporters were given the opportunity to ask questions. The first reporter, from the AP, asked:

President Obama, you’ve covered the broad scope of this relationship, but I’d like to follow up specifically on your comments about human rights. Can you explain to the American people how the United States can be so allied with a country that is known for treating its people so poorly, for using censorship and force to repress its people? Do you have any confidence that as a result of this visit that will change? … And, President Hu, I’d like to give you a chance to respond to this issue of human rights. How do you justify China’s record, and do you think that’s any of the business of the American people?

Hu Jintao didn’t answer the question, not having heard it due to a technical translation problem, but the American press would not be deterred. The second (and final) question from an American journalist, from Bloomberg this time, reiterated: “President Hu, first off, my colleague asked you a question about human rights, which you did not answer. I was wondering if we could get an answer to that question.”

I was a bit surprised, given the zeitgeist themes of losing domestic manufacturing to overseas workers, the exchange rate issue, and the overall trade imbalance; that the media returned to censorship and political speech–a rather traditional scolding for an untraditional Communist state. Americans are, for better or worse, preoccupied with political rights (even for citizens of another country). Sometimes it seems more important for a politician to be Christian and pro-life/choice/guns/privacy than well-educated, competent, and possessed of a clear plan for the future. In college, students are expected to have a liberal arts education–in literature, philosophy, and history, but not necessarily in science, math, and economics. Our core values are in the humanities. It’s no surprise that our leaders reflect our values, and for their legislative and policy decisions to reflect their educational expertise.

I was curious to see whether this correlation between educational values and leadership carries for other countries, and did a little impromptu research. I looked at the top 9 leaders of each country, and found their undergraduate major and/or graduate field. I started with the U.S., China, India, Singapore, and Germany. I would be interested in seeing others; however, I lack the language skill or Googling will to look them up.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but perhaps it should come as no surprise, given the results, that the Chinese government is less concerned about humanitarian issues than economic growth, infrastructure development, and technological advancement.

United States (first nine in order of succession, modified Senate pres.)
Barack Obama President law
Joe Biden Vice-President law
Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House political science
Harry Reid Senate Majority Leader law
Hillary Clinton Secretary of State law
Tim Geithner Secretary of the Treasury economics and East Asian studies
Robert Gates Secretary of Defense history
Eric Holder Attorney General law
Ken Salazar Secretary of Interior law
China 9 members of standing committee of politburo
Hu Jintao President hydraulic engineering
Wu Bangguo Chairman of Standing Committee electrical engineering
Wen Jiabao Premier geology and engineering
Jia Qinglin Chairman of Nat. Com. Of CPPCC engineering
Li Changchun head of propaganda/media affairs electrical engineering
Xi Jinping Vice President chemical engineering
Li Keqiang First Vice Premier law
He Guoqiang Secretary of Central Commission for Discipline Inspection inorganic chemistry
Zhou Yongkang Secretary of Central Political and Legis. Comm. geophysical survey
India top 9 cabinet ministers
Manmohan Singh Prime Minister Economics
Pranab Mukherjee Minister of Finance law/history
P Chidambaram Minister of Home Affairs statistics/law/business
AK Anthony Minister of Defense law
Sharad Pawar Min. of Agri. commerce
Veerappa Moily Minister of Law/Justice law
SM Krishna Minister of External Affairs law
Virbhadra Singh Minister of Steel horticulture
Vilasrao Deshmukh Minister of Heavy Industries law/finance
Lee Hsein Loong Prime Minister mathematics, public admin.
Teo Chee Hean Deputy PM, Defense electrical engineering, comp sci.
Wong Kan Seng Deputy PM, National Security business
Goh Chok Tong Senior Minister economics
Sunmugam Jayakumar Senior Minister law
Lee Kuan Yew Minister Mentor law
George Yeo Yong-Boon Minister for Foreign Affairs engineering, business
Tharman Shanmugaratnam Minister of Finance economics, public admin.
Mah Bow Tan Minister for Nat. Dev. industrial engineering
Germany first 9 in list of German cabinet
Angela Merkel Chancellor physics
Guido Westerwelle Vice-Chancellor, Foreign Minister law
Norbert Röttgen Minister of Environment law
Rainer Brüderle Minister of Economics economics
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg Minister of Defense law, journalism
Kristina Schröder Minister of Family Affairs sociology, history
Ronald Pofalla Minister of Special Tasks law
Thomas de Maizière Minister of Interior law
Annette Schavan Minister of Education education, theology

2010 in review

2010 in Numbers

Featured imageThis blog was viewed 12,644 times in 2010. There were 81 new posts in 2010, growing the total archive of this blog to 97 posts.

The busiest day of the year was November 3rd with 223 views. The most popular post that day was A Tribute to Russ Feingold, 1992-2010.

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, grabyourfork.blogspot.com, chowhound.chow.com, and yelp.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for richard blumenthal (34), vietnam war medals (32), worcester v. georgia (29), grenades (29), and shutter island schizophrenia (20). Other less frequent, but more humorous and opinionated, search terms included: estate tax is bullshit (9), “hate true blood” (2), and home theater sucks (2).


Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1. A Tribute to Russ Feingold, 1992-2010. (467)

2. A brief history of Supreme Court battles with the President. (302)

3. Recipe: The Best Braised Short Ribs, with Coffee and Chili. (285)

4. Restaurant Review: Szechuan Gourmet (NYC) (281)

5. The Antibiotics Shortage and How to Solve It. (270)


Here are our favorite posts by authors’ personal selection:

Pat Andriola — A Deserved Toast To Christopher Hitchens

Will Crocker — Summer Vacation?

Thomas Miller — A Disgruntled Democrat’s State of the State of the Union

Josh Morrison — Shutter Island

Alex Taubes — Google Wave: the importance of export

David Yin — Fired for Paying Respects to the Controversial Dead.


Resolution for 2011

Toward the end of 2010 I became somewhat delinquent in posting. Therefore, I will set up a new incentive structure for myself (David) to post semi-regularly. I pledge to post at least twice each month. If I fail to post at least once within the first 15 days of any given month, I will pay $10 to the first person who calls me out on this by posting on my Facebook wall (you will have to friend me first, if we are not already friends). If I fail to post at least once between the 16th and the end of any given month, I will pay $10 to the first person who calls me out on my Facebook wall.

Thanks everyone for reading, commenting, and generally making this blog a success over the past year!