Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union Bullet Points

Some odds and ends from Wednesday night's State of the Union address, the first for President Barack Obama:

***By far, the best moment of the speech came when President Obama, with justices from the Supreme Court sitting directly in front of him, taking the court to task for last week's decision eliminating limits to corporate contributions to political campaigns. It was one of the few moments that both sides of the aisle stood in applause, and many of the justices sort of hunched over and had a look of sheepish regret on their faces. Justice Sam Alito was the lone dissenter, which has prompted some day-after drama, but I appreciate the president's willingness to call the Supreme Court on its mistake to its face. That's not nothing.

***President Obama listed several tax breaks that have resulted from the stimulus package passed a year ago. The purpose for this was two-fold: inform the American people of what has been accomplished (which is typical for a State of the Union address), but to also test the Republicans. The GOP is constantly screaming about cutting taxes, so it wouldn't surprise me if the president listed his tax cuts to see how Republicans would act. Predictably, there was no ovation or applause; the GOP members of Congress just sat there. If nothing else shows that Republicans' obstruction of President Obama has nothing to do with ideological differences, this should.

***Democrats, by and large, have proven over the past year that massive Congressional majorities don't guarantee they can effectively govern. Watered-down stimulus bills, a health care debate that has been needlessly compromised and complicated and a general lack of spine has left much of President Obama's agenda up in the air -- especially since Democrats no longer have a 60-seat majority in the Senate to theoretically kill filibusters. The president took Democrats to task in his address, telling them not to "run for the hills" and pass health care. He had to remind Democrats that they still had a massive majority in the Senate, which is kind of sad. I know math was never my strength in school, but even I know 59 is a lot more than 41.

***On at least five occasions during his address, President Obama told America that the House had passed a bill relating to one of his agendas and he was merely waiting on the Senate to follow suit. Do not mistake this for mere updating of the masses; the president was making a salient point. The Senate is by far the more convoluted and fractured of the two Congressional chambers, and the president was prodding the Senators in the room to stop acting like morons and actually get to legislating. Will it work? Probably not, but at least the message was sent.

***The bulk of President Obama's address (read full text here) dealt with job creation -- as it should've, with unemployment still in the 10 percent range and likely to be one of the last parts of the economy to recover. Americans are frustrated -- whether it be because they've lost their job, they're afraid they will lose their job or they're having a hard time finding a job. The president and Congress need to find a way to create more jobs that are readily available to Americans who need them. Health care reform, green initiatives and Wall Street reform are all well and good, but without Americans at work, their effect will be muted.

***While I appreciate the president's grown-up approach to his job, and the fact that he's far more intellectual than I'll ever be, I remain disheartened whenever he talks of working together. I literally cringe every time the word "bipartisan" comes out of President Obama's mouth. I realize he has to project an image of cooperation, that he can't come out and bust heads whenever he sees fit, but when is he going to realize that bipartisanship is about as real as unicorns? The Republicans have shown repeatedly they want nothing to do with his policies; they want President Obama to fail. When will he realize this? He can't even keep Democrats in line; why does the president keep insisting on extending his hand to a party that just wants to bite it off?

***President Obama said on Wednesday that he wants to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year. It's not the first time he's promised to end the law that keeps homosexuals from openly serving in the military, and it won't be the last. The only question now is whether or not Congress will follow suit; a bill currently sits in the House, but no action has been taken in the Senate (where have we heard this before?). It's a nice thought, but the pledge did feel like a throwaway statement near the end of his address.

***In a stark departure from his rhetoric to this point, President Obama threatened vetoes and took Congress to task for an initiative he wanted not coming through. The president wanted a bipartisan fiscal commission, an idea which Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) had proposed, only to see it blocked in the Senate, and President Obama said he would sign an executive order to circumvent the Senate. Between that, and the veto requests, something tells me the president's patience is finally starting to wear thin.

All in all, President Obama delivered a strong State of the Union address. However, unless his policies and initiatives actually come into being, his words will mean nothing, and he will further earn the ire of the American people.

On both sides of the aisle.

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