Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Scattered Thoughts on the SOTU Speech

-I thought the opening was problematic. The imagery he started off with should have lent itself to an "America has been through tough times before and come back stronger, we can do so again" line of rhetoric. Instead, he continued for too long with a laundry list of how lousy things are. People who are unemployed, losing their homes, etc. don't need the president to tell them things are lousy. They want him to tell them things are going to get better. For once, I wouldn't have minded a little more Audacity of Hope.
-He has some good stuff early on about Reeps and Dems working together. No one who says that ever means it, but it's nice to pay lip service anyway.
-He has a line a few paragraphs in about "bad behavior on Wall Street being rewarded" while good behavior on Main Street is not. To the extent that that is true, it has largely happened on his watch.
-Remember back when Democrats criticized President Bush for cutting taxes at the expense of a balanced budget? Funny that Obama felt the need to brag about his tax cuts, and then brag about not raising the income tax, despite running deficits that would make Bush blush. (It was the right choice of course-well except the deficit part-but I'm just sayin' you probably won't hear Dems complaining about the President selling our kids futures down the river anytime soon.)
-I like the stuff about helping small businesses with tax credits.
-Can we please all stop with the high-speed railroad obsession? America is not Europe or Japan. We have a population that likes independent mobility and is insufficiently dense to make that sort of system viable.
-Who told the president that addressing the problems facing us would be "too ambitious"? I want names please.
-Loved the line about not accepting second place for the United States. That's the kind of stuff that would have better balanced his opening paragraphs.
-Does anyone believe that the president would actually veto any financial reform bill that the Congress sends him? Has anything in his first year indicated a willingness to really get into a fight with the Dem leadership in Congress over legislation? He hasn't even waded in strongly on his own signature reform, health care.
-Good on him for mentioning solar and nuclear before the obligatory nod to biofuels. Lead off with the realistic stuff. Was his line about "tough decisions" on offshore drilling supposed to be pro or con? Since it's in the context of new fuel sources, my first assumption was pro, but he's also talking about clean energy, so I'm not sure.
-I liked the talk about seeking new markets and signing trade deals, but that will require a fight with the Dems in Congress. Remember poor Colombia?
-Decent stuff on education reform. If the federal government has to stick its nose into education, things like Race To The Top are not a bad way to go about it.
-Yeah, making MORE money available for college will help make it more affordable. After all, basic economics tells us that the more money thrown at a finite resource, the cheaper it gets, right?
-Instead of doubling the child care tax credit, how about an increase in the child tax credit. Do parents who choose to stay home with their children, or who make family or other arrangements that allow them to work not deserve the same consideration as other families?
-The health care reform bit seemed a little bit like whistling in the dark. "I didn't do this simply to get a legislative victory", "I take the blame for not explaining it to you dolts more clearly", "cool off and look at our crappy plan a second time". There's dealing with the serious trouble his bill is in, and no acknowledgment that perhaps people have substantive issues with the bill.
-Good stuff on the spending freeze. Non-defense, non-discretionary spending is only about 12% of the budget, but at least he wants to freeze something.
-He keeps talking about the problems he inherited. Ok, but YOU SPENT TWO YEARS CAMPAIGNING FOR THIS JOB. YOU DON'T GET TO COMPLAIN THAT IT'S TOUGH. IT WASN'T EXACTLY FORCED ON YOU. President Bush did that in his first (I think) debate with John Kerry. It wasn't impressive then, it isn't impressive now.
-The president's statement on the Citizens United case was not only petty, it was flat-out wrong on the facts. That might be excusable for you or I, but didn't this guy teach Constitutional Law? And I loved his call for Congress to pass a law to fix it. Umm...wasn't a Congressional law what the Supremes just overturned?
-Good stuff on earmarks. Did Jeff Flake sneak that in?
-"We cannot wage a perpetual campaign..." Hey, didn't you just re-hire your 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe?
-"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions." Good lines. Possibly the most memorable of the speech, and they'll probably hit a chord with a lot of people.
-"My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination." Classy. Way to imply that the previous administration turned a blind eye to civil rights issues just minutes after calling for bipartisanship and an end to endless campaigning.
-Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Whatever your position, what are the odds of a change to that policy in a campaign year where a bunch of red state Dems are already in trouble?
-The close was kind of schmaltzy, but it was the type of schmaltz you expect from a presidential speech. He does it pretty well. Not Clinton well, but still pretty well.

Overall, I obviously disagreed with a lot of the policy stuff, but just as a speech, it lacked coherence. That's a typical problem with SOTU addresses. Everyone wants a shout-out for their particular issue, and the president's speechwriters feel a need to squeeze them all in. It was a middling speech, but a great speaker giving it.