“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 Combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq.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.
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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: