Live-Blogging the 2013 State of the Union Address

As I am a political junkie and continue to believe that political pageantry conveys valid (if subjective) signals about the preferences and beliefs of our public figures, I will live-blog the 2013 State of the Union Address, as well as the Republican Response and the far-right “Tea Party” Response.

Some things to look out for: Does the President double-down, or is he starting to worry about Congressional Democrats’ prospects in 2014?  Will Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) knock it out of the park (and will people recognize that he’s an arch-Conservative)?  Will Republicans strike a conciliatory tone and pick their battles, or will they gamble on trying to portray President Obama as outside of the mainstream while they are the ones polling in the minority?  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) will deliver the Tea Party Response; will his speech just rehash Senator Rubio’s, or will he stake-out terrain to the right of the Republican mainstream for himself?  Would doing such deepen the ideological rift in the Republican Party, or is the retrenchment of the Republican establishment succeeding?

11:06 pm: I neglected to say anything about Senator Rubio’s mention of the Republican “plan” to reform Medicare.  Senator Rubio’s decision to defend Congressman Ryan’s “plan” to replace Medicare as an entitlement to certain medical procedures for senior citizens with vouchers for seniors to buy essentially unregulated health insurance suggests to me that the Republicans are still in the throes of their recent indiscipline: “Ryancare,” as it become known, was a badly-conceived blunt instrument for controlling Medicare costs that would wreck the health care entitlement for the elderly in a matter of years.  It result in Republican electoral losses from mid-2011 special elections through the 2012 Elections.

Tonight Senator Rubio has revealed himself to be not only ideological, but politically out of touch.  Reports of the Great Hope of the Republican Party have already been shown to be overblown; at the very best, Senator Rubio has a lot of work to do if he wants to run for President in 2016–or else he will prove to be a gift to the Democrats rather than the Republicans.

10:44 pm: Senator Rubio says Americans embrace economic liberty.  Look, I understand that the Republican Party is going to remain the party of limited government, but this speech is not ideally-crafted to this moment.  This was supposed to be the Republicans’ chance to offer terms of agreement or critique of President Obama’s agenda, which is now emphatically Liberal, and the Senator essentially re-fought the battles of 2012 as if he didn’t learn anything from them.  I accept that the Republican Party is the Conservative party, but Congressional Republican leaders have already shown indications of being prepared to give on certain issues while rallying around others.  What we got here was rehash, and lacking the charisma Senator Rubio has exhibited on other occasions.

But he was able to give the Republican Reponse message in Spanish.  That would help the Republicans (if they had anything to say to Hispanics that the latter would care to hear).

10:41 pm: Drink Poland Spring.

10:40 pm: Senator Rubio has expressed essentially blanket opposition to new gun control measures, putting himself decidedly to the right of Congressman Ryan.

10:35 pm: I already think the Republicans’ choice of Senator Rubio to deliver the Republican Response was a mistake.  He is fixating on issues the President minimally addressed in the State of the Union Address.  He sounds like he is still in denial about global warming, arguing that “government can’t control the weather.”  He expresses indignation at the President’s call for higher taxes on the rich–when all he called for was the closure of special interest tax breaks, not another tax rate increase.

Did Senator Rubio get the right speech?

10:32 pm: Senator Rubio responds to the State of the Union Address by calling the 2008 Financial Crash a result of failed government regulations and claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s regulations will result in layoffs and downgrades to part-time jobs in small business…This is the mainstream Republican Response?

10:30 pm: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), “a rising star in the Republican Party,” invokes his immigrant and working-class background.  Oh, and did he mention he’s Hispanic?  This is the Republican’s great hope; he’s starting strong, if perhaps laying it on a bit thick.

10:17 pm: President Obama closed-out his speech by championing a 1st-responder who took 12 bullets after a different mass shooting.  When asked why he took-on that shooter alone, he answered, “That’s just the way we’re built.”  The President notes our common citizenship.

This was a good State of the Union Address: The President doubled-down, but he found a way to do it with a gentler tone than in his 2nd Inaugural Address and with a ringing appeal to our common citizenship.  This gives Congressional Republicans real political incentives to relent on resistance to the legislative matters already on the docket and narrow their focus to their core issues–in particular, the fight over the Federal Budget.

10:09 pm: “This time is different.”  President Obama calls for new gun control measures following the mass shooting in a Connecticut elementary school last December.  The President notes that more than 1,000 Americans have been murdered in the 2 months since that massacre.  He repeats his basic proposals requiring Congressional approval–comprehensive background checks and closing of the “gun show loophole” that leaves 40% of gun sales unchecked, a high-capacity bullet clip ban, and a new assault weapons ban.  “If you have to vote against these measures, that’s your choice–but they deserve a vote.”  Invoking the many assembled victims of gun violence or their next of kin present for the Address, he says simply, “They deserve a vote!”  Bipartisan applause.

Bipartisan applause.  Suddenly, new gun regulations are looking less-controversial in Congress than immigration reform which many Republican leaders agree they need to pass in some form.

10:06 pm: President Obama called for expanding medical care and other assistance for military veterans.  This has long been a cause for President Obama; he has done much good, though with more prudent judgment from his predecessor, it would not have been necessary for him to do as much.  Veteran suicides are at an all-time high.

10:02 pm: President Obama applauds the democratic political transition in Myanmar (and its longtime advocate Aung San Suu Kyi) and in the Middle East.  He calls out the mass-murdering Assad Family Regime in Syria, implying that it is doomed.

What I’d really like would be for President Obama to take action to help the Free Syrian Army depose Assad.  Sometimes engaging a firefight is the path of least bloodshed; we were right in our decision to intervene in Libya, and if anything should have done it sooner.

10:01 pm: President Obama has proposed a partnership to negotiate free trade with the European Union.  That could have far-reaching consequences if it could be made to function…I wonder if it could survive the endurance of our and their agricultural and aerospace subsidies.

9:59 pm: The President’s use of euphemism towards the situation in Afghanistan is understandable; he has said “We will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.”  That is a reminder that he is prepared to use military force against the Islamic Republic of Iran if it doesn’t desist in its verboten (and denied) nuclear weapons program.

9:55 pm: President Obama acknowledges our men and women in uniform, and says the job will soon be done in Afghanistan and that our soldiers can come home.  Well, our soldiers have certainly put in their time, and they will be coming home…But corruption, meddling from Pakistan, religious terrorism and Afghanistan’s inability to legalize its most-valuable cash crop are all still conspiring against it.  President Obama has given us peace with honor in Iraq, and soon will do in Afghanistan.  But President Nixon gave us peace with honor in Vietnam so that our ally in the South could collapse under the weight of its own corruption and conquest by the superior force in North Vietnam.

9:51 pm: President Obama notes that a family with 2 children that works full-time at minimum wage lives in poverty; he notes that 19 States have raised their own minimum wage since 2007 of their own motion.  He calls for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour–a proposal that gets applause from almost all Democrats and almost no Republicans.  He also says–and this would be far-reaching–we should index the minimum wage to inflation, so it doesn’t become insufficient to live on with time.  He notes Governor Romney supported the same measure last year.

9:47 pm: Calls for comprehensive immigration reform get a chilly reception from many House Republicans.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) smiles sheepishly and claps subliminally and intermittently–I am not exaggerating.  What is he trying to say, “Kind of want”?

9:46 pm: President Obama calls for linking college affordability to access to Federal grant money.  Yes, it’s about time colleges were given actual disincentives to pass all costs on to students and their families.

9:43 pm: President Obama notes that German high schools provide vocational and pre-professional training equivalent to what American students get after 2 years in a community college!  Ouch…I know I’m not the 1st to say this by any measure, but reform is urgently needed in higher education.  Not only is it now discouragingly expensive, but at the undergraduate level it also doesn’t provide people with useful professional certification.  So, right now you need a graduate degree in this country to have a level of education that certifies you as jobworthy, more or less.

9:41 pm: President Obama calls for Congressional action to make it easier for struggling homeowners or buyers and small business-owners to refinance.  Particularly in the case of financially-underwater homeowners, this is a good idea that would have been better if it had been identified and tackled 4 years ago, focusing on what struggling homeowners needed rather than simply pushing the banks to be more-forgiving with existing loans while not reducing struggling homeowners’ incentives to default.

9:39 pm: YES.  President Obama has called for new spending on roads.  This is 1 of the most obviously-beneficial thing we could do for ourselves; it creates jobs and improves highway safety, capacity and aesthetics.

He specifically mentions the need to aggressively budget to repair the nation’s 70,000 structurally-deficient bridges.  Sometimes making the hard choices actually means paying to do what needs to be done anyway.

9:36 pm: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect Americans from the reality of climate change, I will.”  President Obama calls for bipartisan and market-based legislation to resist the feedback loops facilitating climate change.  Sounds nice, but what does that look like?  He calls for a Congressional-led proposal similar to the one worked-out by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (I-CT) a few years ago.  If Congress declines to do that, President Obama says he will pass more executive orders in order to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or to promote cleaner energy sources.

9:34 pm: In spite of the way Republicans attacked him in last year’s Presidential Election, President Obama has overseen the transition of our country to energy independence within the next decade.  This is a powerful transformation of our economic and political situation from just a few years ago, and one that vindicates many of the President’s 1st term policies.

9:32 pm: Citing the success and productivity of the 1st, President Obama says he is going to create 3 new business hubs to stimulate local manufacturing growth.  He asks Congress to pass laws to create a total of 15 more.

9:30 pm: “Deficit-reduction alone is not an economic plan.  Growing the economy in a way that creates more jobs must be the north star that guides our efforts.”  I’m glad someone said that.  President Obama thanks the last Congress for passing parts of his proposed JOBS Act; laughing, he asks the current Congress to pass the rest of it.

The unproductive and hostile 112th Congress has become a joke-by-allegory in the State of the Union Address.

9:25 pm: When President Obama said we can’t continue to make promises to spend money on Medicare at rates that cannot be sustained, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) nods, smiles and applauds.  I’d really like to think the President and he can find some way to reform Medicare they can agree on, even if only partially.

Congressman Ryan sometimes seems to be more the leader of the House of Representatives than the Speaker.

9:25 pm: President Obama has proposed ending Medicare’s unsustainable fee-for-service compensation model, that pays doctors and hospitals simply for administering services to seniors at their discretion rather than for attaining improvement in seniors’ health.  That’s a radical proposal for restructuring Medicare, and 1 whose time has come.

9:21 pm: OK, we’re at substance here.  President Obama notes that we have achieved $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction…however dysfunctional the process that led to these budget cuts.  A little more than $600 billion of this deficit reduction came from the tax increases of the New Years’ Day “fiscal cliff” deal.  While noting that “we’re more than halfway there” to the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over this decade set by the Bowles-Simpson Commission on the Deficit, the President also describes $1.2 trillion in impending blunt-force automatic spending cuts as an unwanted contingency.  (If we are aiming at $4 trillion in deficit-reduction, and we have attained $2.5 trillion thus far, and $1.2 trillion of that deficit-reduction is considered disastrous and unwanted, we can’t really say we’re more than half-done, can we?)

9:20 pm: President Obama invokes the American Dream, saying that Americans believe that if they work hard they can get ahead.  Prolonged economic difficulty probably does make it easier for a Liberal Democrat to claim Republicans’ thick terms for themselves.

9:18 pm: The President announces that “the State of our Union is strong.”  Oh, good!

9:16 pm: “The Constitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners in progress,” the President says, quoting President Kennedy 50 years before.  That isn’t necessarily an expression for hope in bipartisanship; it may be no more than an acknowledgment that politicians of both parties are trying to do good, and that we’ll get there, graspingly.

9:16 pm: Uh, does the President usually hand a manila envelope to the Vice President and the Speaker of the House during these things?  Have I just not noticed?

9:13 pm: President Obama has a brief but very friendly-looking handshake with Chief Justice John Roberts, the man who saved the Affordable Care Act from a partisan savaging.

9:10 pm: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!”  I’m sure House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) loves hearing that now…

Hell, the Speaker appears gloomy just looking at him.

9:07 pm: The last time I waited this long for a public appearance, strangely-enough, it was for Yassin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def.

9:00 pm: “Mr. Speaker, the President’s Cabinet!”  A long train of well-known political figures shuffles down the aisle–not to take their seats, but to chat, it seems.  President Obama was quite comfortable with taking people out of the Senate and into his Administration with him–his Vice President, his Secretary of the Interior, his past and new Secretary of State (2 past and a possible future Presidential hopeful there!), his controversial but qualified and compelling nominee for the next Secretary of Defense.  President Obama may strike some as protean, but he has the hallmarks of where he comes from professionally all over him.


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