Once a year we have a State of the Union address. This is when the President comes before, well, before the rest of the major figures of the federal government, although specifically to Congress, and gives a speech on "The State of the Union." It's in our constitution. I've been watching these for years with great fascination. I am far more compelled by a State of the Union address than I've ever been for a Super Bowl. Usually the State of the Union is highly optimistic, mainly because we have a legend in our country that if the President suggests that the Union is weak, Daniel Webster will come bursting out of his grave and the taxpayers will have to pay for his reburial.
Which translates to: every time, regardless of how much or little I like the Presidents, I really want to believe what they say in the State of the Union. What they say usually bears little resemblance to consensus reality in the present and the future (and sometimes even the past). What they say is more often than not a platform for political agendas and specific hobby horses they are trying to pass into reality at that given time (although, judging by the constant, predictable, petulant refusal of whatever the other political party is to clap, it gives you an idea of how effective it's going to be.) Usually one can get a glimpse into what the President is going to be focusing on and where he would like to steer the nation in spite of the opposing parties attempting to steer in the other direction simply out of spite and consequences be damned. Make no mistake, I'm not pointing specific fingers. Both major political parties do this.
This time our President focused largely on the economic crisis and jobless rates. It's nice to hear him speak so much about creating new jobs, doing right by big corporations and what not. I don't think much will come of it, but our economy has sort of a "clapping for Tinkerbell" aspect to it. If the President got up there and said "We're all doomed! DOOMED!" you can bet the stock market would tank the moment Darth Vader rings the starting bell.
By all indicators from economists on all sides of the political spectrum, I think I've become convinced that the worst is over and we are beginning to see growth. However, don't be fooled. It's growth like a bean planted in a kindergarten classroom on the day when you first see the tiniest sprig of green in the dirt. Bear in mind, the kindergartners are the people and the corporations who have a tendency to leave the fragile new plants in the sun or drown them in water or leave the class bunny out of its cage to eat all of the new growth. You see, this animal spirit manifests itself in, to use Freudian metaphors, the collective people who make up the economy, the people and the corporations, who are like a giant id. They feed their base desires and fly fully at whatever emotion they're feeling. The government acts as sort of an ego which comes in on occasion, very rarely (much like all of our own ids), to try to keep the unruly id from self-destructing. And hopefully the joint efforts of the two will, much like the science of emergence, create a super-ego which will guide the body (the economy in this metaphor). Unfortunately, the id rages to keep itself fat, drunk and happy, guzzling resources and getting away with whatever it can get away with, while the super-ego dithers over where and when to step in, how to step in, the right and left side turning on one another like an allergy until the body is so low on nutrients that it starts to devour itself from starvation.
Obama did not say any of this.
Obama talked about clean energy. The only clear dig I saw him take at the previous administration was mentioning climate change deniers in the face of staggering scientific evidence. He talked about leading the world in clean energy in one of the more jock-ish sections of the speech.
He spoke out about the need for the best education in the world. In one of my favorite moments, he said, "The best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education." For which I wanted to stand up and applaud, but we were in the car at that point. Although he then went on to say how a high school education no longer guarantees a job and how we need to reform colleges both inside and out. Which is nice and all well and good if a bit behind the times. My immediate thought was "A Bachelor's degree... Heck, a PHD no longer guarantees a job in this country much less a high school diploma!"
Then he talked about health care reform. I wasn't sure he was going to go there with as disgusting a turn that whole topic has taken. But he did. I still stand by what I've said before that I think given the direction it's going, when his administration is done, people like me will be in either exactly the same position with health care or worse. It's a nice thought, but I think it's going to end up in a one term president embarrassment. Our nation is horribly impatient and unforgiving; and leaders who inherit a load of headaches from the sins of their predecessors don't tend to fare well in America no matter how much headway they make. Again, I would love love love to see real health care reform that helps the people happen in America. I know this isn't the most civic minded things for me to say, but I'll believe it when I see it.
He talked about reform. Then he talked about the war and did a bit of sabre rattling at other nations we're nervous about, which I really wish he wouldn't. I had a friend who was of voting age in the 1960s who told me once that he didn't vote anymore. That was because he had voted for Lyndon Johnson who promised to be the anti-war president, the president who would scale back and stop the war. My friend felt so burned by it that he never voted again. I think about that every time Obama talks about the war.
Look, I would really, really like to like Obama. I really want to. As it's going, I think at best he'll be our generation's Carter, at worst our Johnson or Hoover.
He talked about the deficit of trust in the people toward their government which I yes and amen.
He ended with a touching bit about Haiti and that was that. You can read the full text of his speech here.
I am of so many minds about politics. I usually end up trying my best to be apolitical, especially on this blog, but it's one of those things that effect our lives so we must take an interest in it, although our power is so strangled and impotent, so it's kind of a big frustration. I want there to be a great leader, an amazing heroic figure who is going to march in and lead us all to a grand new future. But I don't think we have one; and I think we may have reached a point in our history where a person like that couldn't make it to any real point of power. Which leaves me with us, the people, who I think are the ones who could work for a better future. But we don't.
And I'm sure Obama's words about the "deficit of trust" will haunt me, one who naturally leans heavily to the Left, for years to come as I see myself acting out that very phrase. I guess it points to where my hope is and where it isn't.
And this is where I find myself at the end of January almost every year. It's a bit like having a favorite party holiday that every year ends up not living up to your expectations.
Sorry to end on such a downer note. See, this is why I don't talk politics very often but, like Michael Corleone, every time I think I'm out, they drag me back in.
As a coda, I would like to add that the gross inadequacies of our local television networks were such that we did not have the usual troupe of political nerds before the event discussing what may or may not be said in the speech. I decided to continue this happy serendipity and, at the time of writing this, I have not read a single analysis or reaction or even listened to the Republican rebuttal (because I decided that my time would be more pleasantly spent chewing a wad of aluminum foil and shoving sharpened bamboo shoots under my own fingernails.) I did this so that my reactions would be purely my own reactions to what was said.
And this is what I came up with!