Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reaction to Obama's 2009 Address to Joint Session of Congress

Last night, I posted the transcript and some video clips of Obama's 2009 State of the Union Address. Here are my thoughts on the speech:

The Tone:
Perfect. We all expected that President Hope would sound strong and inspiring last night, that he would steer clear of fear and pessimism, that he would rally the troops... but Obama's no-nonsense, I'm-talking-to-the-people-at-home-and-I-GET-it straightforwardness was a refreshing departure from the last, oh, thirty years of State of the Union Addresses. There were a couple of moments last night-- in particular when Obama began the sentence "With the deficit we inherited..."-- that the chamber hooted and hissed like a bunch of Parliament Lords, making me believe for a second that they might actually be living, breathing human beings and not zombie bureaucrats. Even though I thought the "we are not quitters" thing was just a tad hokey, it still captured the moment and, in the context of its author's story, reminded us all that a good handwritten letter to your elected officials is not a waste of time. We're all in this together, after all.

The Economy, the Deficit and Taxes:
Kudos again to Obama for not backing off of the truth that "our economy did not fall into decline overnight." And BIG kudos for saying that he has no interest in bailing out the banks. That's what I call "getting it." I honestly don't know whether or not the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going to work, or how, but it seems like a step in the right direction to me. (And by "right direction" I mean the opposite direction of further debt and debauchery.) I also appreciated Obama's ad-lib moment when he said that Americans who earn less than $250,000 a year-- and then clarified, "that's a quarter of a million dollars"-- would not see their taxes increase a single dime. It made me miss John Edwards for a second, but it was a nice reminder that we still live in "Two Americas" and the gross social and economic stratification of our bifurcated state cannot be remedied until we stop structuring the tax code in favor of the wealthy.

Energy and Automobiles:
Yeah, we need clean energy. Yeah, we shouldn't give up on the automobile. Like, duh.

Health Care:
If Obama's talk about taxes made me miss John Edwards, then his talk about health care made me miss Hillary Clinton. Of course, I'm very happy that our country's disaster of a health care system made it to the top of Obama's agenda, but he is still horribly vague about what is to be done. He says his administration has made a "historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform" (not comprehensive health care) and is committed to the principle that "we must have quality, affordable health care for every American" (not just quality health care for everyone). To his credit, I think that Obama is going to be effective in tightening-up the health care system (mostly Medicare, really) and possibly even holding insurance and pharmaceutical companies more accountable for their exploitative practices. And I am totally confident that he is going to redirect those wasted funds into research. (That man loves himself some science!) But the truth is that there was an obvious and troubling asymmetry between his descriptions and his prescriptions when it comes to health care. Want to stimulate the economy? Try to stop the hemorrhaging that every family with the misfortune of having someone get sick experiences as a result.

Okay, so I clearly have a vested interest in this topic. So, hurrah! for Obama's commitment to make America the country with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. And hurrah! for asking every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or career training. And hurrah! hurrah! for reinforcing the fact that quality education makes for a better citizenry and workforce. Now, if he could only do something about that other source of income-hemorrhaging: student loans. Pardon!

War and Torture:
From the President's lips to God's ears. Let's hope he means it when he says "without exception or equivocation that the United States does not torture." Let's hope he finds a way to convince the beltway hawks that "living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and stronger." Let's hope we can responsibly end these wars. (Hemorrhage #3: Afghanistan and Iraq) I've been doing a lot of research on torture and terrorism recently, and I am convinced that the appearance of these in our times are both symptoms and causes of the regrettably antidemocratic trend of our country in the last seven years. I've heard a lot of people say in the last couple of months that they are "proud" to be American again, that the Obama administration's commitment to diplomacy and democracy have restored a sense of decency to our nation, and that it's only now that they realize how bad things had really gotten. Obama, like all Presidents before him, used the State of the Union Address as an opportunity to tell a few inspirational stories of Everyday Americans. Then, he said:
These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.
Let's hope we are still that people.


Governor Bobby Jindal's (R-Louisiana) Response:
What? TWO people of color in one night?!? [Rubs her eyes and pinches herself.] Okay, in all seriousness, good for Governor Jindal for at least signaling a willingness on the part of the GOP to reach across the aisle and see what genuine bipartisan cooperation can do. Less impressive: "The strength of America is not found in our government." Hmmmm. I, for one, have a hard time buying the standard "no-big-government" line anymore, and an even harder time depending on the "good will and good hearts" of individuals in a mess as big as the one we're in now. But I'm not convinced that Jindal really buys it, either. The only major difference between his points and Obama's were on taxation and spending, about which Jindal still believes that allowing Americans to "keep the wealth that they earn" is more important than looking after the public good. Even still, I appreciate his clarification of the real philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans and his honest admission of his party's abandoning of classical conservatism's fundamental principles. Jindal's right that the GOP has a long, hard, uphill battle ahead of it in reclaiming the trust and confidence of its constituency... and I suspect that he will soon learn that passing the buck back down to Main Street isn't going to make much headway in that struggle.


petya said...

Now, can I place a request for a similar comment on Governor Jindal's response? ;)

DOCTOR J said...

Thanks for the reminder, Petya. I just edited the post and included Jindal's response.