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Special Edition:

I prepared for this review of President Obama’s second State of the Union Address by rewatching President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address (the things I do for you people). I chose that particular address because it was the first following his 2006 mid-term “thumpin'” at the polls where voters swapped control of BOTH Houses of Congress over to the Democrats, where last night’s address similarly followed a switch in control of the House with Republican gains in the Senate. And it is likely because of that “thumpin'” in 2006 that the first 20 minutes of President Bush’s speech sounded remarkably Progressive in apparent acknowledgment of the country’s dramatic shift to the Left:

  • He opened by addressing health care. He said “Government has an obligation” to care for “the disabled and the elderly.”
  • He proposed using Federal Funds to help states provide health care “to the poor and uninsurable” (or was that simply “uninsured”?)
  • He addressed “immigration”, both legal & non, calling for a “temporary guest worker program” to help cut down on illegal immigration.
  • He then spent a considerable amount of time on the need to invest in “clean energy programs” like “solar, wind and nuclear energy”.
  • He urged increased funding for “bio-diesel and ethanol”.
  • and topped it off with a challenge to “Cut U.S. oil consumption by 20% in 10 years”, of which he said all these changes “would reduce our dependence on foreign oil by three-quarters” by 2017. Among his reasons for doing so: to “help us confront the crisis of Global Climate Change”.

Listening to President Bush’s Address, I couldn’t help but imagine how the Tea Partiers and the current Republican Congress would react to a speech like that coming from President Obama. He would be blasted for “pushing his Socialist Agenda”, branded a “Marxist” and possibly even “an environmental extremist” by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

To my surprise, President Obama’s speech started out quite similar… though it should be noted that, unlike President Bush, President Obama never even mentioned “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” in his speech. How depressing is that?

The first thing I noticed was that the introduction of the President was made by just one person again: The Sergeant At Arms. When Nancy Pelosi became Speaker, I noticed that two people now introduced the President. This bugged me, as I felt as if it were some sort of slight to Speaker Pelosi not to mix the words “Mad’am Speaker” with the words “President of the United States”, but in reviewing the 2007 Address, I learned that the new format was at Pelosi’s request, honoring the “Democratic Floor Manager” with sharing the introduction. So, the return to a single introduction was not evidence of any slight.

Just as President Bush did in 2007, President Obama opened by congratulating the opposing Party for its electoral gains in Congress and welcoming the new Speaker. It was all very deja’vu-ee. In 2007, President Bush praised “both Parties” for “working together to pass No Child Left Behind”. In 2011, President Obama talked about both parties passing tax reform during the lame duck Congress. From there, President Obama started talking about America losing its lead in technology and in “jobs of the future”. He called this “Our Sputnik moment” and called for greater “investment” in education and research. That’s where the two speeches started to diverge.

It was known before the Address that President Obama would talk a lot about “investment”, so the GOP’s flying monkeys took to the air to disparage the idea of “investment” as simply code for “more spending”. Well, No. “Investing” doesn’t always equal “spending”. You can invest your “time” and “resources” too. Just because you spend money doesn’t make every purchase “an investment”. The analogy I like best is the difference between “buying lunch” and “buying a new kitchen” so you don’t have to waste your money on expensive lunches with nothing to show for it afterward. I think the country likes the idea of “investing in America” and will reject the notion of equating “investing” with pointless “spending”.

However, later in the speech, President Obama called for a “freeze in domestic spending”… an item from the Republican playbook, after spending 30 minutes calling for an increased “investment” in infrastructure, communications and high speed rail. What’s wrong with this picture? The only way to “invest” in new programs without increasing spending is to massively cut something else from the Budget. What that “something else” would be, President Obama didn’t say. The only place one could find THAT level of money is from the Defense Budget, and all reports are that President Obama has taken cuts to Defense “off the table”, choosing instead to focus on “non-defense discretionary spending”, which is less than 25% of our Federal Budget, and includes things like Eduction… which he just said we need more of. Money for “infrastructure” projects ALSO come from that sliver of “non-defense discretionary spending” that he has set aside exclusively for cuts. You can’t make your piece of the pie bigger by slicing wedges off your own piece of pie and adding them back later.

President Obama said America was likely to “become the first country with a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015” and set a goal of “80% of America’s electricity to come from clean energy sources” by 2035. I was reminded of President Carter in 1979 calling for the creation of “the Nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000″, and President Clinton (in 1996 iirc) setting a goal of “5% of all cars on the road to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2006 (again, iirc)”. In 2003, President Bush spoke of investing in “hybrid vehicles” and the danger of “our dependence on foreign oil” two months before launching “Operation Iraqi Liberation”… O.I.L..

My favorite line of the night was President Obama urging Congress to “end subsidies to oil companies”, noting that they seem to be doing well enough on their own without needing more money from taxpayers. Cutting corporate welfare to oil companies, massive factory farms like ADM, and the “Military Industrial Complex” would more than pay for all of the president’s “investments” without adding a cent to the National Budget. But just TRY and convince Republicans to cut Corporate Welfare. They’d rather abolish Medicare and give you a coupon to go and buy insurance on your own, before they’d vote against giving “poor farmers”… like ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and Tyson… Billions in “farm subsidies”.

I was also pleased to hear the President say, “We simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” Better late than never I guess. If nothing else, that lays the foundation for campaigning against making the tax cuts permanent in an election year. But he really should of thought of that before he agreed to an extension that expires right after the election, making it a campaign issue and almost impossible to repeal.

President Obama then disappointed by co-opting yet another Republican big lie that “The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world”. Nonsense. As a percentage of GDP, the United States ranks 28th among the top 30 industrialized nations in Corporate taxation, just behind Poland and Turkey (the largest, most profitable corporation in America, Exxon/Mobile, paid NOTHING in income taxes in 2009, and two out of every three major corporations paid NOTHING in income taxes at least once between 1998 and 2005). President Obama then called on Congress to “lower the corporate tax rate w/o adding to the deficit.” Might I suggest a “flat tax” of 18% with “no exemptions”? Republicans LOVE the idea of “flat taxes”, and while 18% would certainly be a substantial reduction from the current 32% rate, eliminating those tax loopholes would mean a substantial increase in revenues. I like to tell people that just before Enron went under, they were paying the accounting firm of Aurthur-Anderson $350 Million dollars a year”… nearly $1million dollars a day… to avoid paying ANY income taxes each year.

Another Republican idea co-opted by the president: Earmark reform. “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it”, declared President Obama. All earmarks do is specify where already-appropriated money is spent. It doesn’t stop Congress from appropriating the money in the first place. Eliminating earmarks may… MAY… cut down on the frivolous use of tax dollars, but it doesn’t save you one red cent, so I can’t decide if co-opting this Republican idea was “shrewd” or just pointless.

When President Obama reached the topic of Health care, I couldn’t help but notice… not the fact that Speaker Boehner stopped applauding (his applause was tepid & sporadic most of the time anyway)… but the issues he deliberately chose not to applaud. Boehner didn’t applaud when President Obama lauded “New rules to prevent insurance companies from exploiting patients”, sat on his hands when the President mentioned an “end to preexisting conditions”, and he didn’t applaud when the president touted the ability of “children up to the age of 26 staying on their parents coverage.” Take from that what you will.

After the speech, former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) noted that the issue of “gun control” was absent from President Obama’s speech (Adviser David Plouffe assured Rendell that the president “will address issue later this month in another speech.”) Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) also observed, “No mention of Mental Health” in President Obama’s speech, despite spending a significant amount of time on both health care and the absence of Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the head by a mentally deranged lunatic.

Seven-term Congressman (that’s 14 years) Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose only claim to fame thus far is his ridiculous “Roadmap for America” that fellow Republican panned far & wide in favor of their own ridiculous “Pledge to America”, gave the Republican Response. Ryan continued the day-long Republican bash-fest of “investing”, claiming it was simply code for “more spending”, and citing the “failed Stimulus”. He then went on & on… as Republicans do nowadays… whining endlessly over the size of the National Debt and the Deficit. Did I mention that Ryan is a SEVEN term Congressman the served through George Dubya’s two terms, which saw the National Debt explode from $5.2 Trillion to $10 Trillion in just six years (the years the GOP controlled both houses of Congress)? The same Congress that voted seven times to raise the Debt Ceiling under President Bush with nary a word of concern, is now concern-trolling over the size of the National Debt. So it should come as no surprise that Ryan was sure to add: “No one person or Party is responsible for it [the size of the Debt].” When your share of the blame is SO great there’s no point in even TRYING to deny it, you know you have no credibility.

On the subject of Health Care Reform, Ryan stuck to the GOP script and insisted HCR “hurt job creation” (he was careful not to say “job killing”) and “would bankrupt the nation” (directly contradicting the CBO that has repeatedly stated that HCR will SAVE the country “nearly a Trillion dollars over ten years”.) But Republicans… who often cite the CBO when it suites them… have their own numbers on this one that tell them what they want to hear.)

Ryan then went through the list of promises the Founding Fathers made to the country in the Preamble to the Constitution: “establish justice”, “provide for the common defense”, “ensure domestic tranquility”. Notice anything missing? How about “Promote the general welfare”? That one must have slipped his mind. Dude, just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean you can pretend they didn’t say it.

As if one Right-wing response wasn’t enough, almost as if to highlight the fracture and disarray of today’s Republican Party, Rep. Michele Bachmann delivered the “Tea Party” response to the President’s speech. I didn’t see it (the corporately owned “Tea Party Express” webstream crashed before her speech even began), but in an interview on NBC afterward, Bachmann seemed to be in total agreement with Rep. Ryan, denying that giving a separate response was any indication of a break from the GOP. And who exactly appointed Bachmann head of the Tea Party? Apparently, she appointed herself. The “Official” Tea Party is none too happy that Bachmann has taken it upon herself to supplant Queen Sarah in the name of the corporately run astroturf “Tea Party Express”, which “asked” Bachmann to deliver their response.

That ’bout says it all, doesn’t it?
 


 
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