Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union

I thought I'd add to the echo chamber on this year's State of the Union Address. There was Obama's speech which ran just over an hour and then two much shorter responses from the GOP. Paul Ryan spoke first with the official Republican response and Michele Bachmann followed with the "Tea Party" response (all three are provided below).

I'm in kind of a sober political mood right now. Actually I have been since December when Barack capitulated on taxes and renewed the tax cuts for the wealthy. I wrote about it in November and started another draft in December, but didn't post it because I thought the tone was much too inflamed.

Tonight, while I'm always excited by something political, I sat down to the speech prepared to be disappointed by a president taking a calculated and misguided tack to the center. The tax cuts were my greatest frustration, but Obama's recent comment about government regulations holding the economy back was additionally irritating (he either missed or completely misunderstood the economic crash in the fall of 2008–too busy campaigning I guess).

However, tonight's speech transcended more than just my disappointment; it transcended a nation caught up in malice after the midterm elections and horror after the Arizona shootings. I'll be honest, even though I pointedly disagree on some points, I'm excited about what Obama said. He proposed some truly radical and sincere (and specific) solutions.
I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. 
Granted, the timeline is too long, the goal too low, and the definition of "clean energy sources" likely too broad, but that kind of rhetoric is exciting and energizing. This sort of leadership renews my faith in the hope Obama talked about in 2008.

Here are a few more proposals that caught my ear:
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.
So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the [corporate tax] system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.
To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success 
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.
Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.... In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people's faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. 
Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
This is not a compilation of the things I agreed with. This is a compilation of the things that struck me as particularly significant. To be honest, some things I quote here give me great pause and concern, but the following quote does something to subdue my fears:
I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.
A word cloud might reflect the speech well:
Obama's word cloud

Ultimately, this speech was one of great optimism and inspiration. It was brave in its policy suggestions and firm in its themes. This speech made me hopeful.

I'll only spend a few lines on the other two speeches of the night. They are hardly worth that. Both were in stark contrast to the president's speech. Both were accusatory and dark. Both were founded on the politics of fear.

Interestingly Ryan's tone was more ready to move forward. In that way it was similar to the president's. It was still incredibly negative and no doubt its most important goal was to instill fear of the impending financial doom:
Ryan's word cloud

Bachmann's, on the other hand, was firmly grounded in the last two years. It sounded as though she hadn't heard any of the hopeful tones of the past several months. In this way, it painted a contrast between a president ready and energized to move forward and a Tea Party that is still boiling mad about first two years of his administration:
Bachmann's word cloud

I guess I'm grateful for the clarity provided by the two themes: past-laden fear or energizing hope. I know which I'm choosing.

1 comment:

  1. I love how easy it is to see the optimism V. negativity in the word clouds. Like you, I really think Obama took the moderate middle line a little too much in some instances, but it was a masterful speech in that it took all the major talking points away from the Republicans. I just hope that now that he has set these goals that he fights tooth and nail to make it happen. And I really hope that he makes sure to end the tax cuts to the top 2%. It will be ridiculous if they get extended two years from now.