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One man’s embarrassing reaction to Obama’s SOTU message

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen.
REUTERS/Molly Riley
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen.

Pitch perfect. I thought Obama nailed it. To the wall.

The speech didn’t have the usual Obama level of poetry. It was a long (70 minutes, with 86 interruptions for applause) and maybe too laundry listy. Noted.

By now I’ve heard the TV pundits expose various inaccuracies and hypocrisies. (For example, his attacks on lobbyists — “Now, the House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are trying to kill it. But we cannot let them win this fight.” — were a tad ironic, considering how many lobbyists and Wall Street fat cats he put in his administration, or how many major health care bill provisions were inserted to buy off the opposition of the big interests.)

But for me, the speech fit the moment perfectly. Coming now, after the Massachusetts election, the loss of the Dems filibuster-proofness, the possible collapse of the health care bill, the falling poll numbers, the Dem-on-Dem dogfighting, I expected more regret than determination. A swing to the right was widely predicted, or a Clintonian let-us-do-small-things approach. Obama is a conciliator, not a scrapper by nature.

But the big ending…

“The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people. We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit.”

…was what I needed to hear, what his allies needed to hear, and what many independents and swing voters needed to hear. It even crossed my mind — although the speech included a generous dose of Repub-blaming — that there might Repubs who would respond to the let-us-work-together stuff.

I was actually taken aback to hear the pundits ripping the speech, predictably on Fox (Charles Krauthammer called the speech “strained and unctuous,” Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard called the tone “surprisingly flat”) but even on PBS (liberal ol’Mark Shields called it “workmanlike” and “a supermarket of a speech”). And on CNN, the alleged liberals were on the defensive (even as Soledad O’Brien brought in the instant poll numbers which suggested the speech was a big hit out in America, although that may change after the pundits get done).

By the time I staggered to this keyboard, I was a little embarrassed at my reaction. Being a self-hating liberal whose mind is so open my brains have fallen out, I usually do a lot of back-and-forthing. I’ve panned more Obama speeches or faint-praised them, than raved about them.

A rave review
But I’m raving about this one. Here are some the passages that worked well for me.

Showing that he gets what pisses people off:

“For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded, but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They’re tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now. 

“So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope — what they deserve — is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared: a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.”

 Denouncing the bank bailout, while defending its necessity:

“Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal. [Laughter.] 

“But when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular — I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.”

Channeling populist rage, while promoting his bank fee idea:

“Now, I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea. But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.”

Calling attention to one of the big Repub lies about what he’s done (and then taunting them slightly for failing to applaud for tax cuts):

“Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. [Applause.] We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. [Then, noting that only the Dem side of the audience was clapping, speaking directly to the Repub side:] I thought I’d get some applause on that one.”

It was awkward, and apparently unprecedented, for the prez to rebuke the Supreme Court, with them sitting right there and with Obama’s applauding allies surrounding them (Justice Alito was visibly upset), but I agree with what he said about last week’s Supreme Court ruling:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”

On taking on too much
A direct and fairly eloquent response to the criticism that he has taken on too much in his first year:

“From the day I took office, I’ve been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious; such an effort would be too contentious. I’ve been told that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for a while.

“For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?” (A reasonable question, methinks.)

Throwing some Republican bones:

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”

I’m sure many analysts will emphasize Obama talked more and sooner about jobs, jobs, jobs than about health care or cap-and-trade, but he didn’t back down on either of these.

“I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future — because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

Health care
The tone on health care was neither stubborn nor resigned. He offers to take some blame, offers to listen to Republican ideas, but promises not to give up. Quoting it at length:

“We still need health insurance reform. Yes, we do.

“Now, let’s clear a few things up. 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. [Laughter.] I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; families — even those with insurance — who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

“After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care…

“Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office — the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress — our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

“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?’

“But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

“So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. [Applause.] I’m eager to see it.

“Here’s what I ask Congress, though: Don’t walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. [Applause.] Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.”

On bipartisanship
I’m not sure, but I believe that he had the Repubs applauding by the end of that passage. And that “come together and finish the job” stuff is catnip for independents, and for me, too.

And more catnip for those who crave bipartisanship:

“What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We can’t wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side — a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.  I’m speaking to both parties now. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants shouldn’t be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.

“Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, no matter how malicious, is just part of the game. But it’s precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it’s sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.

“So, no, I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it’s clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern.

“To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town — a supermajority — 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. “

I’ll skip most of the long foreign and military policy section, because the length of this post is already redonkulous, but Obama did promise to do something about the bizarre “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy on gays in the military.

“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”

The camera showed the uniformed military leaders sitting still, which is apparently required of them, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates was applauding.

Obama didn’t introduce any guests in the audience, a break from recent tradition that I personally welcome, but the cutest moment of the evening (and I’m willing to believe that last bit was unscripted) occurred when the POTUS acknowledged his wife up in the balcony for her commitment to working on childhood obesity, thus:

“I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier.”

As everyone turned and stared and started to give the FLOTUS a standing ovation, she, looking genuinely uncomfortable, gestured for everyone to sit back down. And her husband ad-libbed (unless they are both excellent actors): “Thank you. She gets embarrassed.”

I’m embarrassed too, for finding so little fault in so long a speech. I pledge to regain my critical faculties momentarily.

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Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Karl Pearson-Cater on 01/28/2010 - 09:44 am.

    Great post, Eric. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/28/2010 - 09:46 am.

    I think he is naive to expect bipartisan support. Did you hear the Republican response? It felt like a 1980’s robot was giving that speech… full of the eye-lid dropping talking points we have heard before. Nothing new on that front.

    In order to lower the deficit, the President will have to wind down the wars, cut entitlements, tighten the belt on wasteful spending, and probably raise fees and some taxes. A lot of unpopular there.

    Interestingly, there was one President who did something similar in a recessionary economy, with a war: George H. W. Bush, who did all of the above. It cost him a second term, but it did put America on a road to fiscal health, wisely continued by Clinton, and largely abandoned by Bush 43, and many in the current Congress. What will President Obama do? That remains to be seen.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/28/2010 - 10:04 am.

    Good post, Richard, with the accent on DO.

    My reactions:
    It sounds like Obama is in campaign mode again, which is something we know that he can do well. What he has not yet shown is the ability to govern effectively. What he has been able to do on the executive level (without Congressional support) has been good, but not great (maybe overly limited in scope).
    At this point we need less JFK and more LBJ; that may not be his style.

    Final point:
    Most people will form their opinions not from what they hear (if they even listen to the SOTU) but from what their favorite talking head tells them to hear. It’s become an unfortunate fact of life that we’re all too familiar with. The idea of FDR style fireside chats talking directly to the people may be appealing, but I’m not sure that many people would bother to listen.

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/28/2010 - 10:13 am.

    Regardless of political stripe, a speech is a performance. It is they conveying of words written by a speech writer. The purpose is to inform and to motivate (manipulate) the audience. Most Americans that are willing to sit through a 70 minute speech are already informed, so all that is left is inspiration/ motivation element.

    In politics, as in life, it is not so much what you say, it is what you do. Saying that you will be transparent or claiming that you are transparent, does not make it so.

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 01/28/2010 - 10:19 am.

    I thought ‘Embarrass__ing’ was a cold place in northern Minnesota? Eric Black,your ‘place’ is not. You certainly did not “run for the hills” on this one.

    I’m wondering too, if my/others harsh criticism of Obama is that we wanted ‘our man’ to do so much more. Something better, definitive on health care…some kind of closure on these copycat wars…like standing up to the Pentagon and telling them “No!”

    I have used the word “betrayal” at times. I take that one back but I won’t be embarrassed by it. We’ve all got to believe in somebody…and Obama is the man, still…

    There was much in that speech to feel good about and for the rest, as my good mother used to say, “we’ll just have to wait and see.”

    …and tomorrow I may change my mind…so be it.

  6. Submitted by Susan Musial on 01/28/2010 - 11:15 am.

    The President’s rebuke of the Supreme Court is not “unprecedented”. Rare, perhaps, but not unprecedented. How many times have Republican Presidents publicly excoriated Roe v. Wade? It was unusual for the President to do so in the State of the Union address, but it wasn’t outside the bouds of propriety. Justice Alito’s actions, though, were completely and utterly improper. The Justices of the Supreme Court, and also the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are forbidden to show reaction or applaud during the State of the Unnion address, to avoid even the appearance of judicial or military approval or disapproval of what the President has to say. How can we have even the limited faith most Americans have in the impartiality of the Supreme Court, when its Justices mouth “not true” during the President’s speech? Or, for that matter, when they go on private hunting trips with a sitting Vice President, then refuse to recuse themselves from a case involving said sitting Vice President, and subsequently rule in his favor?

  7. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 01/28/2010 - 11:29 am.

    “Being a self-hating liberal whose mind is so open my brains have fallen out, I usually do a lot of back-and-forthing.”

    Okay, I’m totally laughing out loud. Wish I’d said that. I can absolutely relate!

    I thought it was a terrific speech. Whoever called it “flat” is practicing polarized grinching. Whatever else the far right, near right, far left and those who don’t know where the hell they are might say about it, “flat” is just wrong. I sensed under the articulate presentation a man who is fed up and rising with the spewing and obstructionism of both right and left. To be otherwise is to be comatose.

    I confess there were moments when I wanted him to grab the mike, walk down into the snakepit and stare down John Boehner and Joe Lieberman and yes, Olympia Snowe, among others. But that would have been unseemly.

    Big “yes” to discontinuing the absurd introductions of audience members!

    My personal favorite moment was when President Obama favored SCOTUS with his steely gaze and rather politely (I thought) told them they just made a thoroughly un-American decision. Further, that he’s going to figure out a way around it. Booyah!!

  8. Submitted by Lyn Crosby on 01/28/2010 - 11:42 am.

    Eric, great (& humorous) column, it made me think differently of a couple points. The comments here are great too.

    Barrie’s got guts, I gotta say that.

    And, aside from WHAT he said, it’s just so much more enjoyable listening to him than the last eight SOTUs – it didn’t make me fall asleep, and I believed him.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/28/2010 - 11:44 am.

    Obama’s always given good speeches. The problem is he’s painted himself into a corner he can’t talk his way out of. The financial bailout is a done deal, and the odds of getting another massive stimulus package are very dim. His team is NOT the team that’s gonna create effective banking regulations, they simply don’t believe in oversight. The health care bill is a disaster but he’s not going to scratch it and start over. He’s committed to Afghanistan. He’s lost whatever advantage he may have had with a majority in congress. I never would have believed he could do so much damage to his presidency in such a short period of time.

    I didn’t listen the SOTU, he’s not going to get my vote or my attention until he actually gets something done. The low point for me was when he said he was going to “shame” the banks into better behavior. Obama to the banks of American: “shame on you”. Gee, thanks.

    From what I gather, this speech has the same problem his other speeches had, it’s all about everyone else. He calls on the Republicans, the Democrats, the American people, whoever to do this or that. I guess if I was to listen to him I’d like to hear him tell me what he’s going to do. I’d like to see him get personally invested in something other than compromise, an agenda of some kind. I’d like to hear: “I’m going to demand this” or “I’m going to fight” for that. Of course than I’d need to see him do it.

    I think the problem he has is he’s created the impression of non-leadership. His style seems to be characterized by a willingness to ask others to do something and than wait to see what they come back with. It’s an executive style that’s about making decisions but leaving policy to someone else. I think the health care debate in congress was a perfect example, the whole thing degenerated into hysterics because no one knew what Obama wanted, he seemed to willing to sign whatever they came up with. Leadership is about providing direction, if you provide it, people look to you for direction, if you don’t provide it, they look elsewhere. That’s the opening he created for the blue dogs and Republican “populists”. The only big policy decision he doesn’t seem to have been willing to let someone else make is the Afghan policy, he seems to have deferred on everything else.

    Since I didn’t see it I have to ask, did he make the speech I would’ve been looking for?

  10. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 01/28/2010 - 11:46 am.

    So the Obama-bashing habit has infected even the elite! This is so depressingly widespread that I can hardly listen to some of the folks on MSNBC. So I have extra enthusiasm when I say THANK YOU, Eric–you echo my sentiments exactly.

    I wish the cameras had more frequently panned over the glum Obama-scorners in Republican Row. A perfect expression of why so little gets done in Congress. What a collection of just say NO sourpusses!

  11. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 01/28/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    I thought bobble-head Biden and huffy-puffy Pelosi made a great backdrop for the nonsense that we heard in the State of the Union speech.

    The President denouncing and defending the bank bailout in the same breath is reminiscent of John Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” Only somebody who wants badly to believe will actually swallow that kind of line.

    And what about his energy policy—nuclear power, offshore oil drilling and “clean” coal? If George W. Bush had mouthed that, Democrats across the country would have been screaming for his blood.

    If people who consider themselves liberals can so glibly accept what Obama said last night, then I’m sure a true liberal, Howard Zinn, is rejoicing he died just hours before the speech.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/28/2010 - 12:28 pm.

    Twas the Democrats killed Obama’s initiatives, not the Republicans. Democrats ruled out single payer, Democrats killed the public option. Democrats had the super majority, you can’t blame the Republicans for the lack of progress or leadership.

    In the meantime I’ve now heard some the SOTU, he’s promising to use his veto to control spending, great, now he’s Tim Pawlenty. This is depressing.

  13. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 01/28/2010 - 12:29 pm.

    I started paying very close attention to what got cheers from the whole room and what only got half the room on their feet. I understand why health care didn’t get applause from the Republicans. But some of the things they didn’t applaud were the cornerstones of Republicanism — reduce the deficit, lower taxes, cut government spending.

    What gives, Republicans? Are you truly not happy unless you have EVERYTHING exactly the way you want it? Can’t stand that Barry might have a good idea? Grow up!

  14. Submitted by Dan Jurgens on 01/28/2010 - 01:23 pm.

    Obama made some compelling arguments and points, but he was also totally and completely fraudulent at times.

    On Health Care, all he had to do was turn to Nancy Pelosi and say, “We need this. I ask that you and House members of the Democratic Party take the Senate approved bill and pass it without delay.” That’s it. He doesn’t need bipartisan support. He needs his own party to back him and he should have challenged them to do so.

    When he spoke of “the corrosion of trust” the American people have for Washington, he again should have accepted blame. It happens when Ben Nelson can exempt Nebraska from the health care deal. It happens when Obama, who claims he doesn’t want lobbyists to control government, meets with union leaders and exempts them from the taxes that would be levied against the rest of us regarding health care. That was nothing more than a kickback given to people who voted for him. And he did so behind closed doors.

    Which also negated his point about “open government”.

  15. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 02:22 pm.

    The silence on what these wars have cost us is deafening. The Washington consensus on this is starting to make me believe that is all our government does (tho I know its not true). I don’t know do we raise our best and brightest to go to top schools and work for the pentagon? And I would have supported an even earlier intervention in Kosovo (past war).

  16. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 02:32 pm.

    Goodness Gracious we can’t even vaccinate the population properly some of it is left to the private market and other denialists.

  17. Submitted by Paul Scott on 01/28/2010 - 02:36 pm.

    Forty nine percent of Americans trust Fox News the most, a network which, immediately after the speech, offered us the commentary of a constipated Chris Wallace framing the entire enterprise as a reaction to, wait for it, Scott Brown. We just need to accept the fact that there is a critical weight of deeply cynical, miserable wretches who find their interests being expressed by the GOP and the cable shouters and that they might as well cleave off and form their own miserable, cynical nation state of boneheads. I’m with Jon Stewart on this one. The Repubs are just F-ing with us, for sport. Just look at some of the comments on this very article. There’s just some sort of depressive pharmaceutical imbedded in all of their Sam’s Club corn additive foodstuffs, which they then cart out to their oversized exurban homes with the ATV’s they cant find the money to make the payments on anymore. Did I miss anything?

  18. Submitted by Pixie on 01/28/2010 - 02:59 pm.

    I am with you, Eric. He hit the right notes and candidly walked us through where we are and what we need to do.

    Why must some diminish,dissect and dismiss genuine leadership?

  19. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 03:05 pm.

    Again on science just google the word “herd immunity”. O double dare you, our government fell down and we got lucky.

  20. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 01/28/2010 - 03:10 pm.

    I was prepared to be disappointed in the speech, but I thought that it was very good. I especially enjoyed the humor – the shots at the GOP not cheering for the tax cuts and that health care reform is political suicide.

    I do wish that he would have challenged the house to go into session after the SOTU and pass the Senate Health Care bill and that he would sign it before midnight. That would have made the GOP go bonkers!!

    For the people who are now finding out that Obama is not Dennis Kucinnich and are disappointed, I say PAY ATTENTION NEXT TIME!

    As for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, I wish, in addition to the civil rights justification, Obama had talked about the talent that the military has lost as a result of this policy, especially in foreign languages. He could have made the GOP very uncomfortable on that one saying that those who are against gays in the military are “in bed” with bid Laden.

  21. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 01/28/2010 - 03:13 pm.

    Paul Scott,
    Kudos on trying to channel Hendrik Hertzberg style scorched earth culture warfare wrapped in purple prose. He trotted out the the-rednecks-should-secede theme in a characteristic Talk of the Town screed a few months ago.

    Such rational thinking and large-mindedness is almost enough to bring out the neo-con in me, even though I consider myself a democratic (small d) socialist. Small wonder why some people aren’t eager to hitch their wagons to Democratic style liberalism.

  22. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/28/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    “But some of the things they didn’t applaud were the cornerstones of Republicanism –reduce the deficit, lower taxes, cut government spending. What gives, Republicans?”

    This might have had something to do with the looks of incredulity you saw last night:

    “WASHINGTON—The Senate approved legislation Thursday increasing the federal government’s borrowing limit by $1.9 trillion, enough to enable the Treasury to pay its bills through 2010.”

    “The 60-39 vote was strictly along party lines with no Republicans joining the Democratic majority to approve the legislation.”

    “Once the increase is signed into law, the federal government will be able to borrow up to $14.3 trillion, by far the highest amount of debt it has ever held on its books.”

    You shouldn’t be so surprised; conservatives didn’t buy the specious “hopey/changey” talking point that got us into this mess either.

  23. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/28/2010 - 03:42 pm.

    “But if anyone … has a better approach, let me know. I’m eager to see it.”

    Boy. That’s good to hear. Must mean the president is at last ready to acknowledge that the Senate bill is a corporate giveaway of the highest order and the House bill, while better, probably won’t be brought to the floor in the Senate for a vote.

    Must mean he’s at last ready to discuss the health care reform 65 percent of the population wants. Real reform. Single payer. Universal. $400 billion per year saved. I am delighted.

  24. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/28/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    Gregory S (#12): John Kerry has been hounded with that quotation since 2004.

    When he said he first voted for it, he meant he voted to move it out of committee so the full Senate could vote on it. And then he voted against it.

  25. Submitted by Paul Scott on 01/28/2010 - 04:01 pm.

    Thanks Dan, you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I take it all back. Intemperate remarks are surely going to set us back in our ongoing quest to win over the massive readership for books by Ann Coulter, Beck, etc etc, and who heard in the SOTU nothing but more proof of their cynicism. Because we are so very close to becoming one nation united in harmony.

    We don’t have a political problem in this country, we have a cultural and spiritual problem, marked by authoritarianism and distrust and exacerbated by technology and geography and history and materialism, and only marginally about “politics” per se, and which very likely goes back to unresolved resentments guilt and grief over slavery. My guess, anyway.

    Maybe you can lend me your New Yorker sometime. Haven’t read it in years.

  26. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 01/28/2010 - 04:37 pm.

    I trust you have well earned your bitterness. And I don’t necessarily contest your diagnosis of our cultural pathology. I just don’t see how you suppose you can remedy the extra-political malaise except through politics; presumably, this is best achieved by not repelling independents like me. Then again, I’m one of those oversensitive types who has the eye for the culture wars, but not the stomach.

    I’m eight or ten issues behind in reading my New Yorker–hell, I can just sign the subscription over to you. No need to thank me. Watch out for the ads, though.

  27. Submitted by Paul Scott on 01/28/2010 - 04:53 pm.

    Goodness, if all independent voters are this high maintenance that seems like a cultural problem all its own.

  28. Submitted by John E Iacono on 01/28/2010 - 08:30 pm.

    He must have read my list!

    I THINK got more than half of my wishes.

  29. Submitted by Sarah Lewerenz on 01/28/2010 - 09:14 pm.

    I know we all think our appreciation for the president is because we are so glad to have an intelligent president after eight years.

    But, I also like having someone who, I think, shares my values and obviously is struggling and working to continue to incorporate them into his presidency. Integrity.

    When I have read biographies of presidents I have admired, Washington, Adams, Lincoln, Franklin, their perseverance in this regard is part of what makes them admirable. They did’t always succeed, and sometimes failed in very big and terrible ways. But, they kept at it.

    And, in his speech last night, Obama said he was going to keep at it. He has and will fail. But, it is nice to have someone who is trying.

  30. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/29/2010 - 12:32 pm.


    “I know we all think …”? We all don’t think anything. This is due to a thing called diversity, and it goes beyond skin tone to things deeper, including what we think, believe, and hope for.

    Integrity is not repeatedly promising to broadcast health care bill reconciliation on C-span, and then not asking congress to do it, followed by claims of transparency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That is not integrity.

    You and Obama may dream of groupthink, but that is not going to happen. In a democracy there will be dissent, and those who don’t agree with the direction we are heading will be labeled obstuctionists.

    Trying is not good enough; we are not playing T-ball. Effort is not a measure of success. A good plan and an effective execution are required.

  31. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/30/2010 - 09:02 pm.

    @16 Dan,

    There also is the issue of the $1 trillion in immediate costs and $2 trillion in long term costs we have already run up, on top of the 4,200 American and 100,000 plus Iraqi lives lost. This war is bleeding us white in more ways than one. Losing wars, or at least not winning them, is bad for the economy and terrible for the stock market. One only has to look as far back as Vietnam to see why. Maybe that’s why stock investors have earned a zero return over the last decade? I hope Petraeus is able to achieve his ambitious goals. The fate of governments depends on it.

  32. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 01/31/2010 - 02:05 am.

    I couldn’t listen to the speech at all. There have just been too many disappointments in the past year. Guantnanmo still open. No accountability for those in our government who tortured, who ordered torture or justified torture. Still in Iraq. Bigger occupation in Afghanistan. Drones killing villagers in Pakistan. No single-payer even considered; no public option. Multi-billionaires further enriched by bailouts. No slowing of foreclosures. Unemployment still high. Programs for alternative energy still stalled in massive bureaucratic chains.

    Obama is a wonderful speaker, but I just couldn’t listen to him again. I can’t take the disappointment.

  33. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 01/31/2010 - 02:30 pm.

    Obama out-sourced the health care debate to Reid and Pelosi. Big Mistake.

    Is there hope? I recommend the Dec. 14, 2009 New Yorker article by Atul Gawande. The model he suggests is: the USDA Agricultural Extension Service.

    Now, I bet that’s a hard sell to some M.D.’s who think they know it all and fear for their large incomes. And, certainly not to the Big Drug and Health Care companies – for-profit, or non-profit. (What is a non-profit health care company in the 21st Century? Not non-profit for the excs.)

    Obama was not wrong in attacking the health care reform issue. It’s the biggest long-term problem in tackling this country’s economic viability.

    But, right now, we’re in the throes of a huge recession/depression. Truth is, health care can’t be solved quickly, until people get back to work.

    But it cannot be ignored. And, it must be part of the solution.

    Can you do both at the same time? Maybe you can’t solve either without both being addressed.

    But that would take some – gasp! – common-ground realism from both sides: both the Tea Party and the Move On folks.

    I’m not holding my breath.

    But I’ll bet this: the key to the 2010 elections is in the middle. And neither of those movements will get you there at this point.

  34. Submitted by John E Iacono on 01/31/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    Alito was right, Obama was wrong per the NY Times (Posted on 1/28/10 at 9:52 p.m.)


    This time, Justice Alito shook his head as if to rebut the president’s characterization of the Citizens United decision, and seemed to mouth the words “not true.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s description of the holding of the case was imprecise. He said the court had “reversed a century of law.”

    The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions.

    But this was a populist night and the target was irresistible. There are a variety of specific proposals floating around to address the Citizens United decision. The president offered no specifics and did not endorse any of them. Just as the decision doesn’t lend itself to a sound bite, neither do the fixes.

  35. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 01/31/2010 - 05:54 pm.

    One additional note:

    Don’t expect much centrist comment or votes from the House of Representatives. Those districts have been carved into mostly safe warrens of True Believers on both sides.

    It’s the Senate that has to consider all views. But then, New Hampshire has the same number of senators as California. How democratic is that?

    Is this a Great (or Strange) Country, or what?

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