10:10 pm: President Obama notes that he wants our children to grow up knowing that “This is not just a collection of Red States and Blue States; it is the United States of America.” We’ve probably all heard that one before; the mere speaking of it isn’t substantial…but many Democrats rise to their feet in applause while Republicans are largely silent and still. Do Republicans want to separate?
10:07 pm: “I have no more campaigns left to run–”
(thunderous applause from the Republican side)
“…I know because I won both of them.” (the President laughs)
10:06 pm: Mention of excessive police use of force and protests in Ferguson and New York City. Oh boy.
Democrats quickly rise to a standing ovation at the mention of reform of the criminal justice system; Republicans applaud and mostly remain seated; some actually rise to their feet.
10:00 pm: “How ironic, the pundits say, that we seem more divided than ever,” 6 years into the supposedly post-partisan Obama Presidency, the President says. “I still believe that we are 1 people. I still believe that we can do great things, even when the odds are long. I believe this because, over and over in my 6 years in this office I have seen Americans at their best.” Americans are increasingly at their best, he declines to note, in cultural silos. Are we one people if we increasingly unconsciously cluster with people who share our perceptions and values? We’ve lived through 6 years in which the 2 parties in Washington, DC have worked together about as little as was possible in order to get whatever they could on those terms.
9:58 pm: I remember President Obama in mid-2013 saying “I welcome this debate” over NSA surveillance methods leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, who soon thereafter defected to Russia. It’s worth noting that the President made no effort to have that conversation until an unsurprising but embarrassing leak forced him to.
9:54 pm: The President invokes the universal consensus of the scientific community and many other experts to say that “…climate change poses an immediate threat to our national security,” and that “We should start acting like it.” He also notes the agreement he struck late last year with China; Democrats stand and applaud all this; Republicans sit with their arms tightly folded. “National security” was his strongest ask; so, there we have Internet security and global warming as 2 now-partisan issues to which Republicans’ commitment to national security does not extend.
9:52 pm: The President calls for a comprehensive approach to protect commercial and national security assets (and, you know, people) from hackers on the Internet. Republicans in the Senate filibustered the last attempt at an Internet security bill without giving a reason for it. I believe based both on what he was saying about the bill at the time and his own national security credentials, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) may be able to explain more…
9:48 pm: The President notes without much elaboration that the trade and diplomatic embargo against Cuba has achieved nothing and that it is time to embrace Cuba as a neighboring country.
9:47 pm: “Mr. Putin’s display of aggression was supposed to be a masterful show of strategy and strength–That’s what I heard from some people.” There is some mild gloating about Russia’s disastrous diplomatic isolation and unfolding financial collapse. “This is how America leads: Not by bluster…” This is an example of our President at his best: No line-drawing, no sloganeering, less talking and more communication. Many have called for strident gestures against Russia; they would have done no better. I hope George W. Bush is listening; he can see how unfit he was for this role.
9:45 pm: The President gets fairly broad applause when he affirms his commitment to take actions against Islamist terrorism. NSA surveillance methods and the use of drones seems to have had its 15 minutes of Luke Skywalker talk.
9:42 pm: This for me is one of the most-revealing moments of the evening: “Let’s simplify (the tax code) so that a small business owner can file her taxes based upon her bank statement rather than the number of tax lawyers she can hire.” Almost no Republicans applaud the suggestion; some of them are shaking their heads! A simplified tax code that would remove unhelpful deductions and credits was supposed to be one of their most-principled causes, and for some reason they can’t make a gesture of approval for it when it’s articulated that way.
9:40 pm: A call for more-convenient and personalized information technology in health care available to patients, so as to lead to more-informed decision-making about lifestyle and treatment courses, gets bipartisan applause. It isn’t just window-dressing, if it leads to actual implementation. Better access to comprehensive health care information for either doctors, physicians’ assistants or patients can save lives.
9:38 pm: President Obama spoke-up for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a planning collaboration aimed at bringing free trade around the Pacific Rim: Republicans give a standing ovation, Democrats sit down!
9:35 pm: “So, to every CEO in America, let say tonight: If you want to get the job done, and get it done right, hire a veteran.” From jobs programs to increased counseling and Veterans Affairs spending and scrutiny, President Obama’s long effort to improve the often fragile lives of veterans of the US Armed Forces has gone largely unnoticed. It’s a small indignity following the outrage of the way so many of our veterans of this generation are living.
9:32 pm: President Obama repeats his plan for free community college for students who maintain a certain GPA and plans to graduate on-time. He notes that State and local governments are supposed to play (pay) a part in the plan, and that both Republican Tennessee and Democratic Chicago are already doing their part. This proposal actually gets as much applause from Republicans as it does from Democrats; there might actually be political and budgetary slack to do this in Congress.
9:30 pm: 20 minutes in, the President says, “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give them more of a voice.” The fact is that the decline of labor unions has occurred more because of economic changes than because of government discouragement in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. The decline of labor unions really came first.
9:25 pm: “We set-up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid…We set-up schools…the Internet. That’s what middle-class economics is: Everyone gets ahead. Everyone pays their fair share, everyone plays by the same rules…” *applause*
The President rolls into the idea of an expansion of middle-class and working-class tax deductions and credits (paid for through higher taxes on the capital gains of the rich). Also, “It’s time we stop treating child care like a side issue, or a ‘womens’ issue,’ and treat it like the national economic priority it is for all of us.” $3,000 per child annual expansion of the child tax credit.
The President notes that the United States is the only developed country on Earth that doesn’t have paid maternity leave or paid sick leave as a requirement of the law. 43 million Americans don’t have paid sick leave.
Mostly silence from the Republicans; how exactly are Republicans going to respond to this? Are they confident that a message of simplifying the tax code and lowering tax rates (starting at the top) is going to resonate as well?
9:20 pm: President Obama notes that the deficit has shrunk considerably on his watch, the economy has grown, the stock market has grown rampantly, and that millions more Americans have health insurance since 2010. “That’s good news, people,” the President says to laughter from the Democratic side of the House chamber. There is icy silence and stillness from the Republicans. It must be really awkward for them, after 6 straight years of doomsaying, to have accurately called nothing about what would happen in that time.
Republicans in Congress have no accomplishments to point to other than some budget cuts, and have probably said nothing that had any bearing on the course of the past 6 years. Think about that.
9:17 pm: “It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to. We are a strong, tight-knit family that has been through some very hard times…We are a strong, tight-knit family that has been through some very hard times…” The President has used the typical SOTU human interest story in a different way; it’s a little disarming, after years of partisanship and even the President’s recent defiance of a Republican Congress on multiple fronts, to see the deeply and narrowly divided American public referred to as a “tight-knit family.” It sounds so nice until you remember it’s just a speech.
9:15 pm: President Obama has claimed the United States has more freedom to chart its future course than any other country on Earth.
9:12 pm: “Our economy is growing jobs at the fastest pace since 1999…Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was during the financial crisis.” This is intended to serve as the groundwork for the discussion of wealth inequality, more or less: Corporations and other big employers are literally putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to their prognosis of our economic recovery; they just aren’t putting enough of it there. The tide is coming in without the boats, will be his position.
9:10 pm: “Members of Congress, I have the distinct honor and high privilege of presenting to you the President of the United States.” I give House Speaker John Boehner credit for his Ohio nice; that introduction had some feeling to it.
9:09 pm: (I’m not going to speculate and prognosticate about the next 2 years without any prompting from anyone whatsoever.) You have the television news to do that.)
9:06 pm: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” We’re running 6 minutes late; happily, I’m not superstitious.
It’s 2015: No hoverboards, no flying cars, no self-drying clothes. No bipartisan middle ground to be had in Washington, DC. The President is already committed to come out swinging for income inequality: Increase Federal spending broadly, raise taxes on the rich to cut them on the middle class and the working class. Is this the start of negotiations or a declaration of war? All we have in order to determine, or even to find whether Democrats and Republicans in Washington themselves know, is their language and gestures. Junkies, stay tuned…