Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Straight Up the Middle

President Obama’s State of the Union speech fit right in with the seating arrangements of the House chamber last night: liberals sitting with conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, trying to show signs of getting along and going together. There was something in the speech for everyone; deficit hawks got their spending freeze declaration while those wanting new programs and government initiatives to fix everything got their promises to fund high-speed rail. Education got a lot of attention, which, based on some of the things his opponents have been saying in the last few days, would be money well spent. He honored the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and promised to bring them home while at the same time declaring that the war to defeat al-Qaeda and terrorism would go on. Healthcare would be revised if needed, but not repealed, earmarks would be vetoed, and government red tape and bureaucracy would vanish so that we wouldn’t have three different agencies overseeing one salmon.

The overall tone of the speech was cautiously optimistic; we can achieve a lot of things if we all stop worrying about who gets the credit. This is part of his “win the future” philosophy — or campaign slogan — and while Mr. Obama didn’t reach for the oratorical rafters as he did recently in Tucson, he avoided the wonky nuts and bolts of a speech packed with details. Rather he was going for the long run, setting goals for years, not Congressional terms.

I didn’t stay up to watch the GOP responses; either the one from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) or Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Looking at them now, Mr. Ryan was certainly a buzz-kill after the president; oh god, oh god we’re all gonna die from the debt; and Ms. Bachmann’s only real purpose was to provide comic relief. Trust me, this will be SNL’s opening this week. (“Camera? I’m supposed to look in the camera?”)

I have a feeling that the reaction from the masses will be overly positive. There will be the picking-over about word choices and what was left out, not to mention the right-wingers jumping on any tiny bit of something that seems out of place (“OMG, his tie was the color of the Socialist Party of Freedonia!”), and I’m sure there will be some oil company lobbyists — and therefore some Congressfolk — who will get their tails all puffed up about the president referring to oil as “yesterday’s energy.” But it’s hard not to like speeches and ideas that call for a brighter future and put out goals that are based on finding common ground and appealing to the broadest possible market. That works in policy ideas and, not surprisingly, a lot of election campaigns.