SOTU: Likes, Sort-of Likes, Dislikes

It’s hard to take a 70-minute speech and break down every claim. In fact, Republicans didn’t even worry about refuting any claim in President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union speech tonight, instead they just repeated talking points in their rebuttal. But whether or not you like what President Obama had to say, one thing can’t be debated: he knows how to deliver a speech and he did great tonight.

Likes

  • Finally, blame is placed on the previous administration. Earlier this week, James Carville wrote that the Democrats don’t know how to play the “blame game.” But tonight, in almost unarguable fashion, the president pointed out that the economic crisis, especially the budget deficit, falls almost entirely on the Bush Administration:

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Finally. Finally. FINALLY! The leader of the party placed blame where it belongs. Just like the Great Depression wasn’t FDR’s fault, this current crisis isn’t Obama’s fault. It’s time for this to be the Democrats mantra: “We need to cut spending and raise taxes on the wealthy because the previous president wasted the country’s money on two wars (one unjustified war) and two tax cuts primarily for the wealthy.”

And later, he was able to place the blame of the banking collapse, which happened months before the November election, on the deregulatory drug that the Bush Administration and even Clinton Administration 10 years earlier were smoking:

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument — that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis. It’s what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again. Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new.

  • Republicans are finally called out on their obstructionist agenda: “And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.”
  • He told Democrats to grow a pair: “To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”

One of the biggest problems in Obama’s first term has been the need to please Republicans. Democrats have not been able to push through a single major reform of Obama’s agenda because they lacked the political willpower to do so. Let the Republicans filibuster. Let them keep voting “no.” But don’t hide. The Democrats have one of the largest majorities in both houses, but don’t know how to lead. They are like an offensive lineman that caught a tipped pass and doesn’t know what to do with it, so they just fall down, or run the wrong way on the field. 59-41 is still an commanding lead in the Senate, so damn Scott Brown’s election. It is just one vote and this country has been able to function and major legislation has been able to pass without one party having a supermajority.

  • Accepting fault for his failures. One of the biggest frustrations I had with the Bush Administration was its inability to admit to mistakes. It screwed up over and over again, whether it was it lying about Iraq, or it’s decision to send too few troops into Afghanistan, or it’s decision not to repeal tax cuts that were making this country broke. At least twice tonight, Obama admitted that he had screwed up:

On health care:

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.  I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.  And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, “What’s in it for me?”

And during his grand finale:

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved.

I’d like someone find Bush admit fault. Admitting failure is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.

Sort-of Likes

  • On energy. One of the most surprising facts about the Republican Party is its love for nuclear energy. The party that claims to be against big government and welfare supports the energy source that needs the most government backing. And Obama through them a bone on this issue. He said let’s build nuclear power plants and clean-coal plants and drill for natural gas off of our coasts because, well, he has to say that. And the energy issue is one that crosses party lines. What will Democrats in Pennsylvania say when Obama says, “Sorry, guys, were not supporting coal anymore.” That is political suicide. Hopefully a comprehensive energy bill, something that needs to be passed by Congress, can make it through. But the real goal, as was obvious in the scattered, half-hearted applause from the Republican side, is to “invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.” It’s important to remember that not ONE source of energy development in this country’s history hasn’t been subsidized in one way or another.
  • The president will NOT give up on healthcare reform. With 59 votes, the Democrats are running away from any chance at enacting real healthcare reform. Why? The overwhelming content of the two bills supports the following: 1. the ending of preexisting-condition discrimination, and 2. the creation of an exchange that allows non-insured citizens to buy into a group plan. Those two reforms alone are enough to make this healthcare reform act effective. This is what he said: “I didn’t choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt.  And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.”
  • Asking for the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is great, but he should have spent more time on the issue. The military has ALWAYS been the great melting pot of American society. It was the first place where blacks were equal to white, where Indians became Americans, and where the bravest soldiers, or those awarded the highest percentage of medals, has been Hispanics and Latinos. Homosexuality is a similar issue. But he should have spent more than just a passing phrase on this issue.

Dislikes

  • A spending freeze is too much to give to Republicans. If he wanted to really meet them in the middle without giving up too much, he should have asked for the line-item veto and then pledged to cut all pork-barrel spending and then create a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction. I think that would have been enough.
  • This is to Samuel Alito: You are a Supreme Court justice, one of the nine most respected people in this country, show some non-partisan backbone. Moron. So he criticized your decision. Who f’n cares? It won’t be the last one either.
  • The post-SOTU “analysis” by the major networks is a joke. Again, to the media: the former Bush appointee will say Obama’s plans won’t work. The former Clinton appointee will say Obama’s plans are great. Duh. What about analysis? ABC News actually had an economist on the air to discuss the small business plan. That segment was great. He was honest about what he liked about the plan, and how it would help businesses. I expected him to say $30 billion was too little. But he just analyzed what the president said. Then I turned it to CNN and the “analysts” were arguing whether it was OK to criticize a Supreme Court decision. Silly stuff, really.

My overall take

Obama is such a great speaker and he delivered. His speech reached across party lines and he really made multiple efforts to hook Republicans into participating (nuclear energy, spending freeze, tax cuts). But he energized Democrats. I’m energized and I know other Democrats will be too. He gave the party some backbone and that’s what was really needed. He reminded the party that they are the ones with major majorities in both houses of Congress. Act like it.

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