Thursday, January 28, 2010

State Of the Union — “I Don’t Quit”

Everybody else is putting in their two cents on last night’s State of the Union speech, so here’s mine: it was pretty good, and it accomplished what the purpose of the speech is supposed to do: tell us what’s happened in the country and what the president is planning to do about it.

Every president puts forth an ambitious agenda in the SOTU speech, and every president has been held to some kind of artificial standard of this being a “make-or-break” moment in the eyes of the punditry (Mara Liason said as much yesterday on NPR, saying that no president has ever been under such pressure. Hmmm. Bill Clinton delivered a SOTU ten days after the news about Monica Lewinsky broke. Talk about pressure). Remember, though, that the pundits have to come up with lines like that or they can’t justify their mileage. But I do think that President Obama, a year after being swept into office on a giddy euphoria of rose petals, rainbows, and unicorns dancing while the GOP and Rush Limbaugh were hiding behind the arras sharpening their knives, knew what he was up against. His review of the past year and his reporting the news that the citizens of the country were angry and frightened was not really news, especially since fully half of the people sitting in the room have been egging on the anger and the fear. He very well knew that he was going to get some digs in, too, and I was amused to hear some after-show pundits say that the president sounded surprised when the GOP did not applaud at his points about the tax cuts. No, he was being droll. (I don’t think enough people give President Obama enough credit for having a very dry sense of humor. And what is up with Chris Matthews?)

He was also right for saying that the facts were stubborn things: he got handed a really big pile of shit by his predecessor. The right wingers like Pat Buchanan are tired of hearing about it all being Bush’s fault, but this stuff didn’t happen in a vacuum, and just because he and John McCain don’t like it doesn’t make it any less true. This morning Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) whined to NPR that he was shocked, shocked to hear the president use campaign rhetoric in the speech — fetch the smelling salts — and he himself said the president was a whiner for reminded us who was the president before he was. Mr. Kyl’s disingenuousness was pretty ripe and factually flawed, but then, he was a huge enabler of the Bush administration and so you have to at least give him his due for being consistent in his IOKIYAR-ness about the speech being “too political.” Since when has the SOTU not been the launching pad of the agenda for an election year?

I turned off the TV before the Republican response from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, but reading the transcript it sounds like he and whoever wrote it paid no attention to what the president actually said. They trotted out the old talking points about slowing down and not being able to afford whatever it is the president wants to do. And am I the only one who thought it took a measure of a tin ear to have him speak from the House Chamber in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy?

I’ll let the wonks dissect the specific proposals of the jobs plans and the ideas about getting the economy humming along just in time for the first real polls of the mid-term elections. What I came away from the speech with was the president’s determination to plow right ahead with his agenda, taking his lumps and promising not to quit. Yes, every president makes that promise. Duh. But it was nice to hear nonetheless: it gives nervous people some kind of reassurance to hear that even though it’s exactly what you expect to hear during the most ritualistic and theatrical traditions we have in our country. As much as we collectively deride Washington and the Beltway magic, we Americans are like teenagers; bucking against the people in charge yet still needing them to reassure us that they’re taking care of us.

Okay, your turn: what did you think?