It’s State of the Union time again.
The Constitution requires that the President ‘shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.’ This has now devolved into an annual address before a joint session of Congress, televised to the nation as a major event. Instead of merely presenting ‘information,’ the President uses the address to put forward his agenda for the coming year. In recent years, the speech has been ‘enhanced’ with PowerPoint-style graphics delivered on a split screen. (At least they don’t show the PowerPoints in the actual House chamber… yet.)
And this year, President Obama has already been test-marketing his proposals in recent weeks: we already know much of what he’s going to say. So while on one level it’s kind of pointless, as an informed citizen I feel that I have to sit through it anyway.
But it’s a chance to yell back at the screen what I really think. Times are from the video of the speech from the White House Web site.
02:46: “More people are insured than ever before.” Yeah, at great personal cost to themselves, because you forced them to. And it’s still unclear whether having insurance will actually provide access to good health care.
03:04: “And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in 30 years.” You didn’t build that, Obama. Don’t take credit for it. And your pals in Saudi Arabia are now trying to sweep it all away.
04:34: “The state of the Union is strong.” Every State of the Union address includes this line somewhere in the first five minutes. I was a little worried you weren’t going to make it.
06:30: “So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals….” To be followed, of course, by the checklist of proposals.
06:43: Where’s Ben? The President launches into the story of Rebekah and Ben Erler, married seven years and living in Minneapolis. Rebekah is in the audience, sitting next to the First Lady. But Ben is absent. Was he really too busy to come to Washington? Did he not have an adequate suit? Could they not get a babysitter? Or is it politically incorrect to show a normal heterosexual married couple except on America’s Funniest Home Videos?
09:10: “And over the past five years, our businesses have created over 11 million new jobs.” The chamber erupts in applause, the Senators and Congressmen clapping like trained seals. Guys: you didn’t build that, either.
09:50: “And thanks to lower gas prices, and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump.” I can’t see that fuel economy has changed much over the past 10 years at least. The recent drop in gas prices is not so much a consequence of our new exploration efforts as it is the Saudis lowering the price for their own ends.
10:34: “Today we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts….” Actually, the only tool we need is for our leadership to stand up and say ‘no.’ But in 2008, we were told that a failure to enact bailouts would result in mass riots and martial law.
14:18: “Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help. She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but they’ve had to forego vacations and a new car so that they can pay off student loans and save for retirement. Friday night pizza, that’s a big splurge. Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.” That’s called, well, the human condition. Most of us, when bringing up small children, don’t have money for luxuries. And proper child care is expensive, because it’s labor intensive, and not just anyone can do it. (And having the government pay for it will make it cheaper?)
16:00: “First, middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement.” Mitt Romney’s campaign imploded in 2012 when when a video leaked to the public in which he stated the truth that about 47% of the population receives payments from the Federal government. Obama apparently won’t be happy until it’s at least 77%.
18:31: “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.” Paid for by whom?
18:54: “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.” We often hear the figure that women get paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar. But when one matches men against women at the same levels of experience and responsibility, the difference becomes much smaller. And equal pay for equal work has been the law since… 1963! (In fairness, women’s earnings still don’t quite equal men’s for the same work. But I doubt that Yet Another Government Bureaucracy will help very much.)
22:14: “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.” So now the community colleges will become wards of the Federal government. And, like everywhere else touched by Federal funds, the colleges will be run to maintain their subsidies. Whether anyone learns anything is, of course, besides the point.
25:48: “…we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for our workers to fill.” All I’ve been reading about for the past few years is how people who were laid off from middle-class jobs in 2008-2009 are coming back as burger flippers. Where are these high-wage jobs of which you speak?
27:13: “So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.” But Keystone XL (the ‘single oil pipeline’) is to be built with private funds. It’s not the same thing.
30:45: “Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a reenergized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.” Yes, but when? In the 1960s, when JFK pressed us to go to the moon, we felt there was some urgency.
37:02: ” Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group[ISIL]…. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. ” So we’re not getting into a ground war, but we need a resolution to authorize the use of force… for what, exactly?
38:07: “… Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was a masterful display of strategy and strength. That’s what I heard from some folks. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.” Well, maybe. Russia isn’t doing so well right now, but they’re used to hardship. We aren’t, and our vaunted prosperity is mostly pluffage.
41:00: ” Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran…. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.” So let me make sure I understand this. Iran is our adversary. We’re negotiating with them, but nothing seems to be coming of it. So if Congress proposes to actually do something that would meaningfully impact Iran, you’re going to veto it. Is that right?
41:35: ” No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.” But if our own government invades the privacy of American families, that’s fine.
48:40: ” So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I have not. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.” As long as the NSA is Hoovering up all our electronic communications, it will ultimately be used against us, regardless of what ‘safeguards’ the present administration decides to implement. Someday, probably in the not-too-distant future, computer power will be abundant enough and cheap enough that it will be possible to sift through the vast pile of data: initially, to protect us against terrorists, but ultimately for God knows what. The only protection, temporary though it might be, is to turn off the Hoover, and not to build more such facilities.
From there, the speech went on to the usual platitudes, the same as any President might say about how wonderful we are as a nation and a people. Whatever.
Maybe I’d take it a little more seriously if the audience would stop clapping like trained seals.