I could say that I miss President Barack Obama already, but I know very well he’s still here. He has always had a surer hand than his critics, so prone to doomsaying, hyperbole, and reductionism and jaundice in reading into his motives, have given him credit for. So many milestones have been reached in the 7 years of a President who has so often been a reliable voice of reason and conscience for our country. It was enough to restrain even my cynicism, to which even the name of this blog is a light nod. I have only appreciated the integrity of his words more with time and experience.
10:00 pm: In what is the most emotionally-satisfying moment of the address, President Obama makes a thinly-veiled reference to Republican frustration with the Republican Party’s primary base. “I know it,” he says. “You’ve told me about it. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington!”
The President calls for redistricting reform, and the creation of bipartisan or independent redistricting commissions to redraw Congressional and State legislative districts and remove sitting politicians from the process; Democrats rise to their feet and applaud, Republicans remain silent and seated. He calls for removing private financing and thus the access of deep-pocketed private interests from elections; Democrats rise to their feet and applaud, Republicans remain silent and seated. The President notes that Washington politicians hate having to raise money from private sources for the TV and Internet ads that actually estrange them from the public; I can think of no clearer expression of the sad effect of that private financing on politics that Republicans don’t want to be seen admitting that they don’t like campaign fundraising even though it’s widely viewed as unethical by their own Conservative base.
9:55 pm: “When someone attacks a religion, when a mosque is vandalized, when a kid is called a name at school, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s just wrong.” The President is entirely willing to accept the terms of political contestation laid-out by the leaders in the Republican Presidential Primary. He seems contented to make the call of dark prognostication a central subject of the upcoming election.
9:50 pm: President Obama extols his approach to foreign policy in the case of the uranium-enrichment agreement with Iran and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, noting that his administration bucked 36- and 50-plus year trends in opening dialogues that turned-out remarkably well. He really has ushered in tectonic changes in foreign policy that Republicans will simply have to ignore for years in order to continue to speak in the political dichotomies and terms they’re used to.
9:41 pm: President Obama calls claims of the United States’ strategic vulnerability as claimed by his critics as nonsense, noting that the United States is by far the most-powerful state in the world whether measured by military strength or the quality of its soldiers. He regards Russia as a belligerent strategic challenge–There’s an interesting change–but places the military emphasis entirely on fighting terrorism.
He takes great satisfaction in speaking of the purpose in doing this, but also attacks the approach of Donald Trump and Senator Cruz again, saying that it’s foolish to intentionally associate a terrorist movement with the 2nd-largest religion in the World: “We just need to call (all-Qaeda and the Islamic State) what they are: killers and fanatics who have to be hunted-down and destroyed.”
9:37 pm: I know that Republicans have ideological, parochial and bottom-line driven reasons for being uninterested in emissions regulations or Federal funding for clean-energy programs or research, but I did appreciate the spectacle of seeing President Obama note that our foreign imports of oil (a strategic liability in several manifestations) have been reduced by 60%, and almost all Democrats rising to their feet to applaud while almost all Republicans sat (gloomily, I imagine).
9:32 pm: President Obama notes that when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space in the opening days in the Cold War, Americans didn’t pretend it didn’t happen. In a little over a decade, we put men on the Moon. He goes on to call a cure for cancer America’s new “Moon shot,” and appoints Vice President Biden (whose son Beau, a promising young Delaware politician, died of cancer last year) as the head of the consolidated Federal effort. This one gets a standing ovation from both sides of the chamber; maybe Republicans are more-interested in being associated with a generational victory before the next election than they are in continuing to fight President Obama on every front; we’ll see.
9:30 pm: “Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the stock market to collapse; Wall Street did. Immigrants didn’t drive down wages; those decisions are made in the boardrooms…It sure isn’t average American families that put lots of money into offshore accounts.” We aren’t going to hear a Republican retort to these argumentative points later tonight, that much is certain.
9:25 pm: President Obama notes that Congress is one of the few workplaces where pensions are secure. The Speaker of the House nods for that one. He spends time discussing income insurance and putting encouragement of specialized job retraining on top of standard defined-benefit unemployment benefits. (It really is true that many Americans can’t afford to lose their jobs–even on unemployment insurance, even on a new job.)
9:24 pm: Big applause line when President Obama says that college needs to be made more-affordable. He says that recent restraint of increases in the cost of college and the rapacity of student loans are a good first step, but that the existing cost of college needs to be tamped-down.
9:21 pm: President Obama just made a bold admission: “Any job can be automated.” We can see it, including the derived challenge (which the President notes) or pressure put on those workers who have jobs due to competition for positions, and the downward pressure on wages that comes from that competition.
9:19 pm: The President names 4 questions he wants to ask his audience about our current challenges: How do we make the economy work for us? How can we anticipate and negotiate the challenges posed by technological change? How can we face our national security challenges abroad? “How can we make our politics reflect what is best in us, rather than the worst in us?”
9:15 pm: President Obama warns us that “Like it or not, these (destabilizing) changes are only going to come faster.” With a thinly-veiled reference to Donald Trump and Senator Cruz, President Obama says that those who promise the restoration of a brighter past on the backs of an out-group are just appealing to fear, and that those fears have always been overcome by past generations of Americans, and (quoting Lincoln) past dogmas discarded by them.
9:12 pm: The President’s first mention of policy substance is a nod to new House Speaker Paul Ryan, thanking him for his conduct of the House’s business thus far, and expressing a hope that Democrats and Republicans can work together in an election year on criminal justice and criminal sentencing reform. That’s striking a good tone, I think.
9:11 pm: “I’ll try to keep this short. I know that some of you have to get back to Iowa…I’ve been there! I’ll be shaking hands afterwards if any of you want some suggestions.” Hah.
9:09 pm: President Obama has to tamp down chanting of his name. 7 years into his Presidency, he can inspire a celebratory mood among his base of political support.