Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Union - 2014

by Bill Holmes

Before I get into the specifics of President Obama's State of the Union speech, let me say I think it was well constructed and delivered, included some good lines and had a positive tone. As for the content there is some good news, some bad news and some no news. Like most of these exercises in pomp and circumstance, it was much more rhetoric than substance. Here is the transcript of the address. ( 

As always it starts with the House Sergeant at Arms introducing the POTUS and the long slow walk to the podium. It's a schmooze fest with people trying to get a handshake, a word with the president or more importantly some face time on national TV. I'm amazed the room can hold all the egos. There is clapping and yelling the whole walk. Once Obama got to the podium, everyone sits down then the Speaker of the House introduces the POTUS again and we get another long standing ovation. All complete BS. Speaker Boehner and Vice President Biden sit behind the president during the speech. It is Boehner's job to look bored, pissed and/or disgusted. It is Biden's job to nod in agreement, smile, clap and stand up often. He's kind of like Ed McMahon was to Johnny Carson. Once the speech starts there are numerous fake interruptions with applause, cheers and ovations. All along party lines.  

Finally the speech began. It started with vague little scenarios meant to show how well the US is doing. He mentioned a generic teacher, entrepreneur, auto worker, farmer and rural doctor. This is a standard speech technique that was used throughout the address. Mention a specific individual's accomplishment and infer that is the norm. It's effective, but completely bogus. He then rattled off accomplishments about unemployment, energy and the deficit. He next spoke about the rancor and partisanship in Washington and how they need to help and not hinder the people.

Next up was his desire to rebuild the middle class. It was here that he first mentioned that if congress won't pass helpful legislation, he will use executive power where possible to effect change. He then praise Michele Obama for her work with child obesity. I guess that's worth points back in the White House.

He then had one of his best paragraphs and I quote from the transcript "The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That's what drew our forebears here. It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker -- (applause) -- how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House -- (cheers, applause) -- how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth. (Cheers, applause.)" The line about the barkeeper's son finally got a smile and a thumbs up from Boehner. 

Obama mentioned tax reform to discourage exporting jobs. He wants to improve our infrastructure by continuing projects already started. He said he will streamline the permitting process for those projects. Increase the number of business/university innovation centers. He advocated patent reform (a great idea). He wants to eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies ($4 billion/yr) and spend it on alternative energy sources.

Obama stated "But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact." Climate change may indeed turn out to be a fact, but the debate is far from over. It's time to fix our immigration laws and policies. It's time to improve our job training programs too. To accomplish that, he will appoint VP Joe Biden to head up the reforms. In fact he said "So tonight, I've asked Vice President Biden to lead an across- the-board reform of America's training programs". Call me skeptical, but I bet he asked Biden before the night of the speech. I'm sure Joe will have this fixed in a couple of weeks. Obama also wants to extend unemployment insurance.

He shifted to education of our youth, particularly Pre-K for the very young. College costs and student loans need reform also.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. That's sure a new and controversial stance. "It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)" That's the extent of his plan to fix the problem. That point flowed into the need to increase the minimum wage. In one of the few actual actions, Obama said he would increase the minimum wage on federal contracts to be $10.10/hr by executive order. He challenged congress to enact higher minimum wage legislation. In the same vain he said changes need to be made in the earned income tax laws.

He talked about a new retirement investment option from the Treasury called a MyRA. No details. There was mention about wanting legislation to protect homeowners from another housing crisis.

Of course you knew Obamacare would be mentioned. The president talked about all the good points. He didn't mention the website problems. Another good line "Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. (Laughter.) (Chuckles.) (Laughter.)" Then he made a dig about the 40+ votes in the House to repeal the law.   

Gun control and voting rights were mentioned in passing. He moved on to world diplomacy,
national security and negotiations about nuclear proliferation in Iran. Nothing concrete.  He closed with the wars in Iran and Afghanistan. He personalized it with the story of Sgt. Cory Remsburg, a soldier he met while healthy, who was later severely wounded on his 10th tour to the middle east. Thankfully Cory got the biggest and longest ovation of the evening. Better him than the lame politicians in the room.

My assessment is it was a good exercise in oratory. When dissected, it was mostly fluff. There were cliches and parts that were meant to evoke emotion, not actually solve problems. The State of the Union speech has nothing to do with the state of the union. In fact he never actually mentioned the state of the union. Is it good, fair, bad? Obama touched on quite a few issues and offered only a couple of actions and even those were vague. It was probably a too long speech as is this post. It ran a little over an hour but without the BS interruptions would probably be less than 45 minutes. There was probably less than 10 minutes of substance.

My grades for the speech; A- minus for delivery, B+ for construction, C for real content. 

A quick word on the Republican response. It was terrible. It was delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, (D) Washington. Here's the transcript. She said absolutely nothing that gives us a hint about the Republican alternatives to Obama's agenda. Still, his policies are bad. She probably pulled a muscle patting herself on the back for being successful despite starting out poor. She is to be even more admired because she has a child with Downs Syndrome. I wish her well, but what the hell does that have to do with a parties rebuttal or policies? Her solution was to offer a prayer and that with god's help we will make it. 

I heard that there were two other Republican responses. Apparently a very unified party with one voice.

What do you think?


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