I know people who insist on the irrelevance of State of the Union Addresses. As far as I’m concerned, which measures of the Address lead to legislation, and which do not, tell us as much about the state of play in American politics as anything. Non-action on an issue, or specific themes which the opposition party raises during their rebuttal speech, also raises the pertinent questions. I for one want to know what the President hopes to achieve during the calendar year. Even if, as was the case with President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he hopes in part that his agenda will contribute to the alienation of the opposition party, the issues he raises and the frame he uses tells you a lot about what he believes about the disposition of the opposition party, and of the sentiments and perceptions of the country.
For what it’s worth, I sincerely thought Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers would have more to say, whether attacking President Obama’s proposals (some of which she had plenty of time to anticipate) or offering an alternative agenda, which is what a Republican Governor would have had no trouble doing. This was a shallow, disappointing Republican Response. The punditry is largely harping on the same point: To a surprising extent, McMorris Rodgers simply failed to propose real policy goals.
10:38 pm: McMorris Rodgers gives us an anecdote about a Washington constituent whose health insurance premiums rose $700–an extreme case. Interestingly, she doesn’t mention whether less-expensive health insurance was available to the woman she invoked through the Washington State health insurance exchange! Republicans continue to be intellectually paralyzed by health care issues since passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit in 2003.
10:35 pm: McMorris Rodgers mentions her son who was diagnosed in the womb with down syndrome. She says that she and her husband saw potential, that they appreciate the value of each and every human life. That’s some interesting dog-whistle politics for invoking the “pro-life” movement during a response to a State of the Union Address that was entirely focused on bread-and-butter issues.
10:34 pm: Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers says the Republican goal is “A Washington that plays by the same rules that you do!” So, that’s why the Republicans are trying to starve the Federal Government of cash and telling everyone to be afraid of the future.
10:31 pm: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a Conservative footsoldier in the House of Representatives, delivers the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address:
“SOMETHING ABOUT AMERICA.”
10:20 pm: The President refrains on our well-trodden differences, but notes that these differences haven’t stopped us from fighting tyranny abroad and ending injustices at home. The speech closes, coming in at 55 minutes. I wonder if insisting that our differences haven’t gotten the better of our moral sense is the right way to close. It would raise some grim thoughts in future readings if there is no action on these policy priorities again.
10:18 pm: Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) gives the wounded veteran a thumbs-up during his extended applause. Just a small reminder that he might in fact want to run for President.
10:14 pm: It’s an interesting tradition of State of the Union Address that the President picks out ordinary citizens who have done something extraordinary in order to compose a narrative of where America stands. Presidential candidates will point to people who need help, or who are indignant; a President will find examples of strength, people who the national audience will want to see succeed and whose account sometimes challenges one’s perspective. Tonight he mentioned a Midwestern small businessman who raised his workers’ pay to $10 an hour on his own motion, and a severely-wounded recent war veteran whose rehabilitation progresses steadily.
10:09 pm: A plea to Congress to allow talks with Iran to end its independent uranium-enrichment program. Critics of President Obama’s position that talks should be allowed to proceed seem to forget that President W. Bush’s paralysis over Iran in his 2nd term–an outgrowth of his realization that he was unwilling to bear the heavy cost of going to war with Iran–was pathetic to behold. Talks with Iran were the only policy to proceed with under these circumstances, and they were unprecedented in over 30 years of icy tension with the World’s first Islamist revolutionary state.
10:06 pm: President Obama insists on his faith in the international community’s capacity to achieve a lasting peace, both for the people of war-torn Syria and in the Israel-Palestine dispute. Those are the right conflicts to mention and decry in such a speech, but the Palestinian Territories have been under IDF occupation for about 47 years now; the best that can be said for our non-involvement in Syria’s civil war and all the harm it has enabled is that it has left the door open for international action to dispose of Syria’s large chemical weapons stockpile, and to provide emergency food and medical assistance to some of the Syrian populations that have been dispossessed and wounded by their near-3-year-old civil war.
10:03 pm: We’re into the part of the speech where the President defends his policies on drone attacks on terrorists and NSA surveillance methods.
As an addendum to the last point, the President defended the Affordable Care Act on very general terms just now. He had no reason not to, and I’m convinced that he’s speaking from the heart in defending his best-known law. (That would be “Obamacare,” for those who have never heard it called any other name.) I’m convinced that continuing opposition to the Affordable Care Act, now that new health insurance policies conforming to the law are in place, and now that most health insurance exchanges are working well, and with the Act’s expansion of Medicaid being hugely popular, will be politically harmful to the Republicans.
9:55 pm: “We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.” The President notes the attendance of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a popular Democratic Governor of a very Red State. “I did not get my highest vote totals in Kentucky,” the President says in a massive euphemism. Governor Beshear very eagerly embraced both a Commonwealth-based health insurance exchange and the Medicaid expansion offered through the Affordable Care Act.
9:51 pm: “Let’s give America a raise.” Raising the minimum wage is very popular with the public. We may have called the President’s efforts to create an “everyone versus House Republicans” frame in national politics unsuccessful prematurely. The issues he’s emphasizing this year are a little less recognizably partisan and more-popular with the public than last year.
9:50 pm: President Obama notes that, adjusted for inflation, the value of the Federal minimum wage is more than 20% yes than it was when Ronald Reagan was President.
9:49 pm: The President notes he asked Congress to raise the minimum wage a year ago, and that 5 States have raised their own minimum wage. He also tells us that he will pass an Executive order to raise the minimum wage for Federal Government contractors to $10 an hour. He is harping on the need to go around Congress, or at least House Republicans.
9:47 pm: “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.” Income inequality between the sexes, embarrassingly, continues at a wider than 5:4 ratio for the same work. Republicans applaud, perfunctorily.
9:44 pm: The President notes that Federal Government collaboration with Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon will bring broadband Internet access to 20 million more American students. A friend watching the debate with me noted that it is currently easier to get corporations to move on infrastructure development (which they are notoriously reticent to invest in) than the Federal Government.
9:40 pm: The President calls on Congress (that is, Congressional Republicans) to do more to give the long-term unemployed “a fair chance.” Our high rate of long-term unemployment, of course, is the reason the maintenance of what is technically a temporary extension of Federally-funded long-term unemployment insurance is a salient issue. Extended unemployment insurance was a component of the Stimulus–and like many individual parts of both the Stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, it is very popular with the public. Much like their apparently about-face on immigration reform, the apparent Republican collapse on resisting the extension of unemployment insurance suggests that Republicans perceive how vulnerable they are in continuing to resist the President.
9:35 pm: “Let’s get immigration reform done this year. Let’s get it done; it’s time.” No more needs to be said in this speech. That’s in part because former President George W. Bush eagerly talked-up similar immigration policy liberalization during the 2004 Presidential Election, and made an honest push to achieve it in his 2nd term that ultimately went nowhere. President Obama’s sponsorship of the DREAM Act during the 111th Congress was 1 of just 2 policy failures from his first 2 years. The Senate passed its own immigration reform bill by about 2-to-1 last year, but the House refused to work on it. Now the far more-Conservative House is working on its own immigration reform proposal, and it is much closer to the Senate bill than anyone had expected; President Obama probably doesn’t want to jinx this positive development by involving himself in a discussion of the particular measures too deeply.
9:33 pm: In a discussion of industrial pollution and global warming, President Obama notes that the United States has done more in recent years than any other country to control its carbon emissions. This in part is probably an effect of the many investments in energy efficiency and cleaner power sources made by the woefully under-appreciated 2009 Stimulus.
9:31 pm: The President promises to use Federal funds to protect more wilderness lands. I was a little surprised to hear that one; President Clinton had made big strides in preserving Federal lands, and while George W. Bush did not, he didn’t fight those National Forest, Park or Monument dedications. In a time of prolonged economic stagnation, land preservation by the Federal Government has taken a back seat, including to other environmental priorities.
9:29 pm: “Remember, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; neither should we.” This smart transition links the President’s discussions of trade integration and Federal funding for science and technological research. He notes that Google and smart phones were made possible because of generous Federal research funding. These Federal research grants have been squeezed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and subsequent sequestration budget cuts.
9:26 pm: President Obama proposes closing tax loopholes for corporations that outsource jobs, and to create tax incentives for businesses that create jobs inside the United States. Again, he raised this issue back during the 2004 Democratic National Convention: Depressing. Congressional Republicans have thus far resisted the elimination of any corporate tax deductions.
9:24 pm: President Obama talks-up college access for those of limited means. It may encourage more if he talks about the efforts of his administration to publicize rankings of the job prospects of the graduates of various colleges and universities, and to gear university programs towards professional skills.
9:21 pm: “Too many Americans are working harder just to get by, not just to get ahead.” If you consider that then-Senator Obama’s Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention contained similar themes, you might feel depressed.
9:18 pm: The President notes that many investment analysts no longer rank China as the best country to invest in. That’s partly because debt-financed capital spending in China has gone on too long; not only are current municipal deficits in China not sustainable over the long-term, but capital spending has become more and more-infamously dominated by make-work projects not always rationally scaled to growth. It is also true that US competitiveness is improving, but there is a warning sign in the minor keys now being struck in China’s development jingle.
9:16 pm: “Today in America, a teacher spent more time with a student who needed it…An entrepreneur flicked the lights on at her tech startup…An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best-made cars in the world…A rural doctor gave a child the first prescription for asthma that his mother could afford…” That’s right, in case you haven’t heard: The theme of President Obama’s speech is going to be income inequality.
9:10 pm: Wow, not in much of a hurry tonight, are they?