"We are poised for progress."
-- President Barack Obama 1/27/11
Listening to people who recently expanded the nation's deficit by extending an unfunded tax law speak of deficits as the death of the human spirit and then applaud this nonsense giddily may be an abysmal way to spend a Tuesday night, but around here it's go time. Around here, State of the Union addresses are required viewing, which is why it is far easier to stomach coming from someone of northern articulation than that of the smooth drawl of gooberism. Although the illusions that somehow a post-Boomer progressive might throw off a few "legalize drugs" or "support gay marriage" promises or bag the useless bloat of Homeland Security and give up the ridiculous practice of Middle Eastern nation building have long been shattered, there remained a few interesting turns.
Shedding the non-interesting tones; that of the overtly Reaganesqe "Shining City on the Hill" Pollyanna - opportunity and creativity - or the JFK sing-song - sacrifice and co-operation, "America is not just a place on a map but a light to the world" - nestled boldly between the call to strengthen the nation's standing in the global economy by not being "out-innovated, out-educated and out-built" lent an air of populism to the taken-to-the-woodshed lectern milieu.
Noting the more upbeat and even humorous if not glad-handing aspects of the interminably long address, the president of the United States took the opportunistic component of a State of the Union stage to reclaim his elected position as head honcho. Mere weeks after losing the House in a landslide, Barack Obama has found traction. First in his signing of the Bush Tax Cuts extension at the eleventh hour and then his rousing speech at the Tucson memorial services, both of which jacked his approval numbers to their highest in over a year, the president came across as cautiously confident.
The content, a laundry list of forward-thinking optimism -- energy renewal, business ingenuity, workforce resourcefulness, private sector innovation and the always-gangbusting education -- helped to ease down the medicine portion. Its most prescient moments replete with nods to a new generation of cyber jobs and international trade that likely scared the living shit out of the nearly ten percent of the country's unemployed.
Again, none of this plowed any new field, with a few notable exceptions.
It is clear that the Democrats defeat in November has pushed the president further to the center with a sense that whatever had come in the previous two years would not do so with apology or reflection. Nowhere did Obama philosophically recall "mistakes" and postured "learned moments" that Bill Clinton offered in the wake of the Contract with America in early 1995. In fact, the president remained defiant against any talk of repealing his beloved Health Care Law, which was an easy victory lap considering the flaccid House-vote charade that preceded it. Nonetheless, there was conciliatory lip service paid to discretionary spending freezes and tough military jargon, and the key note to the recent campaign outrages; broader tax relief efforts for small business.
An odd omission from the over one hour address was not even a puff of smoke blown towards gun control, specifically in the wake of the semi-automatic shooting of a congressperson on a street corner in broad daylight. And let's face it; the Tucson/Gun Control connection is to liberalism what 9/11 was to neo-cons. It is the proverbial slam-dunk. Yet, not a peep. Its absence was as inauspicious as it was resounding.
And since the State of the Union is never a one-way affair, the Republican response by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan may have been predictably terse as it was filled with doom and gloom, but paled in comparison to the creepy garbling coming from Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Much of the public-access-like production mocked verily in the press the following day was never the issue, but the mere fact that Bachman saw fit to speak at all on the part of a non-existent political entity, the apocryphal Tea Party, over and in some cases above the usually lone Republican rebuttal.
Bachmann is beginning to gain a fan base here. After nearly two hours of intellectual and ideological speechifying, a little crazy is applauded. She is a nut, but a nut with true grit. And there is always a place for crazy when we're pushing midnight.
Still, this time around the State of the Union held a higher political order. This has been a rough twelve months for the president. But in defeat, he has registered a certified victory, an almost elegant backslap, unfurling a humbled exterior that was absent in his first two years in office. The Republicans are to thank for that. And when they abandon their principles to raise the debt ceiling in the months ahead, as the Democrats did in 2007 by funding a war they ran to halt, the chief officer of the republic will look ever more presidential.
Because somewhere along the line, the State of the Union address has become a television affair, this tribal media junket to retool agendas and sell weird theologies, just as party conventions have become hoo-rah showpieces to posture and pander. A call to arms, as much as this one pained to achieve, it was not. Not unlike the speaker of the House of Representatives posing as a marauder at the barricades on CNN the following evening to discuss the "broken congress", when he has been a key member for sixteen years.
It is an act. Tired and pathetic, but nonetheless an act, which incidentally, painting education and career choices as a patriotic duty is as moronically passé as comparing Soviet space dominance to expanding broadband to the outskirts of Iowa.
When the commander-in-chief says, "In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders" it's time for more crazy from Michele Bachmann.