Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama's State of the Union Address

The picture was taken from a Huffington Post article which included a "drinking game" sheet in which one is supposed to drink a shot each time Obama said a certain word or phrase. I didn't print it out because this game was only fun when it involved one of Bush's State of the Union Addresses or Sarah Palin's Vice Presidential debate. Since those two clowns speak in nonsensical gibberish, the only thing to do in order to keep your sanity is to make a fun drinking game out of their stock expressions and phrases (if I had a shot of rum each time Palin said "you betcha", I'd be drunker than Bush at the Beijing Olympics). President Obama, on the other hand, is sober serious and I'm way more interested in hearing what he has to say about his vision for our country this year without the influence of alcohol.

Overall, I thought he did a great job. It was good to see him make a few good jokes to lighten the mood at times. I especially thought his remark about the bank bailout being as pleasant as root canal to be a good one. I disagree, however, with his view that bankers should not be punished. They should absolutely be punished...if not with the ideal of a prison cell with a hardened criminal or the more common "country club prisons", then at least no bonuses and a 100% tax rate on anything over $100,000, no luxury mansions, penthouses, yachts, private planes, and remote resort vacations. What this tells the world is simple: white collar crime pays. Why does a person robbing a convenience store or a bank get a prison term, but a corporate banking exec who swindled millions from people's accounts and the national treasury get a pass? The harm principle applies here: a white collar criminal affects far more people than a two-bit robber of a local bank or convenience store. These people wrecked our economy for their own greed! To me, that's a death penalty offense. Finance ministers in France were guillotined for less during the French Revolution.

I was baffled when Obama mentioned wanting more nuclear power stations and off-shore drilling. I was happily listening to his speech when I had a flashback to Bush and Palin as he said that. Really? Nuclear power? If people want more nuclear power, are they also willing to have one built near their neighbourhoods or the waste products buried in their communities? This is a case of NIMBY. Yeah, nuclear power is always great...just as long as the power station is built near poor neighbourhoods / communities, and we turn Nevada into our nuclear waste deposit. How about this solution: more wind, solar, water, and wave power IN ADDITION TO using less energy (or taxing people based on how much energy their lifestyles require)?

My biggest critique of President Obama is that he is far too conciliatory towards a group of people who will never accept his presidency. It was nice to hear him once again remind the legislative body and the viewers that he is serious about changing the tone of our politics. Governing should not be divisive. Our country was not politically polarized until 1993, when rightwingers decided that they would do everything in their power to bring down the first Democratic president since the ineffectual Carter administration. They had gotten so used to winning presidential elections that they did not want to give up their claims to the White House. Clinton gave them plenty of ammunition. Obama doesn't have to. His skin colour already does it for him, thanks to the Nixon strategy of using race as the key to winning and holding power.

I was glad, though, that Obama did spend a few moments in his speech to remind Americans once again that a decade ago, a president left his successor a surplus while he came into office with a huge deficit and two wars. Its important for Americans to understand that change can't happen overnight. We did not get into this crisis overnight. History serves as a reminder. President Clinton came into office under the previous Bush recession and the economy did not really turn around until 1995 or 1996 and the surplus did not occur until 1998. We're in a deeper mess now thanks to the wrecklessness of Bush's economic policies. It will be a miracle if our country is out of this mess by 2016. All I can say is...if President Obama does manage to turn our economy around, I hope Americans will not forget what happened in 2000, when the wrong man from the wrong party inherited a surplus. A Democratic president should inherit a surplus the next time. How many times do Americans want to go through the same devastating cycle (Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon/Ford, Reagan/Bush, and Bush)?

The real meat of the speech, though, was when Obama promised to get universal health care reform passed. We are too close to fail this time. I especially liked that he practically dared the Republicans to offer a better one if they don't like the Democratic one. This is moral leadership and using the presidency as a bully pulpit for the good of the country. There's nothing wrong with that. After all, Bush wasn't timid about using the power of the presidency as his bully pulpit for all the wrong reasons. Of course, I fully expect the Republican party to be the party of NO. They are deathly afraid of universal health care because once all Americans have basic coverage with no fear of falling into financial ruin because they can't afford it, it will be like Medicare and Social Security (two popular systems that not even Bush at the height of his power could manage to destroy). The Republican Party is obstructionist all the way, but history sides with the progressives. We eventually win every battle, no matter how long it takes.

Last week, I attended the World Affairs Council Young Professionals discussion group. The topic was about Obama's first year in office. Many in the media talked about his first year and some people seem to think Obama's first year was a failure. Again, this is a case for the short memories of Americans. We only think he hasn't accomplished much because he came into office with the country basically deep in a hole. As Obama pointed out in his address, he's not a miracle man who can dig us out of a hole right away. What he managed to do was stop the digging that the Bush years kept on doing. He claims that his bailout stopped the country from a huge collapse of Great Depression proportions.

If we look at the first year of previous presidents...Reagan got shot in his first year. Papa Bush invaded Panama. Clinton had the World Trade Center bombing, the Branch Davidian fire in Waco, Texas, and a nightmare humiliation for our troops in Somalia. Baby Bush had the spy plane incident in Chinese waters, a long summer vacation, and the biggest national security failure in our nation's history. How did Obama's first year turn out? The largest inauguration attendance in history, no assassination attempts (thank God), no terrorist attacks, a successful rescue of Americans held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia, a popular reception with world leaders at various international events, and what else? Oh...and a Nobel Peace Prize. Now, from that perspective, which president had a dream first year in office? It won't always be that easy for him, but given his predecessors, there's no doubt that Obama had a good first year in office.

As I said in the discussion group, its premature to rate a president based on his first year in office. The more accurate reflection is over the span of four or eight years. How does America look at the end of a president's term? To me this is the most important criteria in judging a president because whether we care to admit it or not, a president's personality and style does affect our nation. Our best presidents inspire us to be our better selves (Lincoln, FDR, JFK). Our worse feed our cynicism (Nixon and GWB, primarily). America became a much uglier place during the Bush years. We were ugly to our French allies simply because they would not support our war against Iraq (did we ever apologize to France? Why not? After all, most Americans have forgotten about Iraq long ago, but in 2003 Americans were insulted enough to rename Belgian-born French Fries into "freedom fries" and dump French wine in public ceremonies).

Its funny to hear a conservative person call Obama "divisive." What's divisive about him? His speech was so conciliatory to the Republicans that he ran the risk of offending his liberal base. He even made the offer to pass a Republican version of a universal health care bill if it was better than the Democratic one. Divisiveness is Bush saying "You're either with me or you're with the terrorists!" At Bush public events, one had to sign loyalty cards to the Republican Party in order to get in. Neither Clinton nor Obama has done this because they knew/know that they were/are president for ALL Americans, not just the ones who voted for them.

Simply put, Obama is an inspiring speaker. Of course, some of his claims do need to be fact checked by independent organizations and I don't buy everything he's selling (despite what he says, I do not see a complete troop withdrawal from Iraq by August of this year). However, it is truly awesome to watch a speech by a president and not be disgusted by the smirks, squinting, eyebrow twitching, arrogant boasting and outrageous lies that the previous president did in address after address. This, America, is what it means to have a true grown up as our president. Here's to a great seven years!

1 comment:

brooklyn said...

great write-up. i agree.