02/02/2014 10:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Frum-Shrum Debate if SOTU Blah or Sets Up GOP for Fall in Fall

By: Mark Green

David ("Axis of Evil") Frum & Bob ("Dream will never die") Shrum clash over whether Obama got traction with "Give America a Raise!" Are his unilateral actions unconstitutional or inevitable? And can GOP allow voting reforms that encourage more minority/young voters?


On SOTU's frame of Inequality/Opportunity. Though viewership is down and George Will calls the process "execrable and puerile", we agree that SOTUs can be consequential politically and substantively. (And if watched less than, say, the Superbowl, they're seen by lots more than watch Ted Cruz on CSPAN.)

Frum-Shrum first discuss their respective experiences with Bush & Clinton State of the Unions. (Clinton's in 1998 only six days after Lewinsky helped save his presidency.)

David is skeptical about 44's "Year of Action" and frame of Inequality since a) reasons for recent disparities g have more to do with technology and industrial-financial disruptions and b) " Obama doesn't have any solutions." For example, increasing wages in the public sector can create its own problems, as Tony Blair discovered.

He also agrees with the Brooks-Rubio thesis that it's especially important to focus on answers that help traditional families stay together and build up 'human capital.'

Bob lauds Obama's proposals about manufacturing, a 10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors, and tax reform to help children escape from being born into the bottom economic quintile. And he explains how the impact of SOTUs is not merely verbal but tonal... and Obama's energy an clear, connecting language contrasted well with a grumpy visage of Boehner implying that the GOP didn't want to cooperate with the President. "If they don't cooperate more, like on Immigration, the GOP will make it impossible to be competitive presidentially in 2016."

Host: Indeed, the GOP seems to be inching toward cooperation with POTUS. Disparagement of his 42 percent favorable rating ignores their own 12 percent House favorables (please remember here the story about the two hikers who had to outrun not the bear but each other). Hence the Speaker has 'evolved' from grudgingly going along with a government shutdown last October to the statement this week that the congressional GOP "is not the opposition party but the alternative party." After Congress went along with only 2 of 43 requests by Obama in his 2012 SOTU -- and, in RFK Jr.'s phrase "LBJ had one Strom Thurmond in the Senate, while Obama has 45 of them" -- can Boehner's new message avoid the label of a "do-nothing" Congress this Fall? Stay tuned...

On SOTU's Tactic of Executive Actions. David sees this approach as limited in reach and designed largely to excite the Democratic base. "Obama's accomplished a lot on taxes, ACA, financial regulation", he concludes, but now doesn't have much left to say.

Bob scoffs at GOP criticisms here since "Reagan had 381 executive orders/actions, including decontrol of crude oil prices and Bush43 had 291 including limiting union dues for federal workers and stem cell research." So any legal challenges are frivolous and partisan. (Host: odd how all the op-eds attacking the President's supposed 'Imperial Presidency' by Cruz, Will, Krauthammer, Noonan etc. omit the words "Reagan's Iran-Contra Affair" and "Bush Signing Statements" and "Cheney's Unitary Executive.")

On SOTU's Rhetoric. The Host suggests that "Give America a Raise" could become as breakthrough a phrase this political year as "Axis of Evil" and "Save Social Security First" were previously. Bob agrees with Obama's sharpening rhetoric while David prefers an "Opportunity Agenda," which both Obama and the GOP official response both mentioned and which was Gingrich's preferred phrase some 20 years ago.

On Easier Voting. Beyond executive actions, Obama proposed a bi-partisan bill, agreed to by both his and Romney's campaign lawyers, to make voting easier. This month also saw a Pennsylvania Judge rule that state's Voter ID law illegal because miniscule voter fraud didn't justify making it so much harder for the other 99.999 percent to vote.

Will or should congressional Republicans go along with increasing turnouts? Bob thinks they should because longer 'early voting" days would reduce lines and spur turnout, like in Florida. But he thinks the GOP won't since the party at the state levels are so attached to voter ID laws designed to discourage chunks of the Democratic base from casting ballots. David says he's no fan of Voter ID laws but adds that Obama's proposal won't change much "since it's poor, local counties that don't spend the money for better voting machines."

On Seeger's passing at 94. The Host recalls his campaign help and seeing him perform at a 90th birthday concert at MSG. Shrum thinks he was America's poet laureate who successfully used song to organize against the Vietnam War and pollution. Frum acknowledges his skillful musicology but laments that he didn't adequately break with the Communist Party during and after WWII.

On the Perkins-WSJ "Obama Derangement Syndrome." There's a consensus that it was stupid for the Journal to both publish Thomas Perkins's letter comparing Hitler's Kristallnacht with Obama's treatment of the one percent... and then have the chutzpah to editorialize against "liberal intolerance" of Perkins's remarks. (Orwell meets The Church Lady.)

Frum notes that one could argue how much to tax the one percent but the Journal's approach was so over-the-top as to be unserious and distracting. Bob concludes that the first rule of public discourse is -- do not compare any current public issue to the Holocaust or Kristallnacht. "It reminds me of JFK's famous comment during the Steel Strike of 1962 when he said, 'my father told me that big businessmen were sons of bitches.'"

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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