Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the State Of Union

President Obama's State of the Union address last night hit all the right notes, emphasizing a commitment to job creation, urging Congress to complete work on health care reform, and reiterating the need to reform the nation's banking system. So why did I go away largely uninspired?
Obama, to his credit, didn't lay out a laundry list of wonkish, detailed proposals. Speeches like that are a cure for insomnia. But State of the Union addresses have a soporific quality to them for the predictability of their content and the aftermath, particularly in the inevitable contrarian tone of the opposition's response. It simply wasn't the time for rhetorical flourishes, and Obama pretty much stuck to what was expected. It was thus a solid but measured and unspectacular speech.
Some moments stood out. President Obama announced that eight billion dollars would be committed to start building high-speed rail projects, he recommitted himself to allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military (but, again, did not offer a timetable), and made it clear that he wanted to soften the Supreme Court ruling allowing more corporate money in election campaigns.
The last point created a stir. Obama's (also most people's) interpretation of the ruling caused Justice Samuel Alito to shake his head and mutter "Not true, not true," reminding me once again why I, a resident of Alito's former hometown of West Caldwell, New Jersey, don't brag about Alito or my hometown.
Republicans are likely to be against anything Obama proposes, despite his pleas for bipartisanship. Obama has apparently tried to call the Republicans on their obstructionism and give them some responsibility for helping the President and the Democrats get things done, hopefully holding them accountable in part for gridlock. That may make Republicans look bad - John McCain has already come out against Obama's new jobs bill - but it's not going to get them motivated to help anyone accomplish anything. Besides, Republicans have opposed to medical insurance reform (government takeover of health care), modernizing Amtrak (government takeover of transportation and mobility), financial regulation (government takeover of banks),and gays serving openly in the military (wonder what kind of government takeover they're afraid of here?). Virginia's new Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, made the Republicans' refusal to relent on anything clear in his party's response, hammering away at Big Government to an invited audience in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber in Richmond (which Mark Shields jokingly called the "State of the Confederacy" address). MSNBC noted that this was the first time the Republicans had delivered a State of the Union response in the form of an address rather than one person alone in a room with a TV camera (forgetting that New Jersey governor Christine Whitman pulled the same stunt in the nineties after one of President Clinton's Sate of the Union addresses by addressing an invited audience in the New Jersey Assembly chamber).
Many of the proposals Obama has made revive the economy to create jobs - government investment in key programs, spending freezes on other programs to cut the deficit - are sure to be debated over the net few weeks and months, but sooner later there'll be a time when talk has to end and action has to begin. And once it does begin, Obama's initiatives will hopefully create more jobs. They'd better. America is out work.
Literally. Actress America Ferrera is unemployed. ABC just canceled her show "Ugly Betty."

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