Thursday, January 27, 2011

State of the Union: Time to Throw Down the Gauntlet

Maybe it's the Irish in me, but when someone poses a threat to someone I care for or something I believe in, I tend to come out swinging.  Kind of the Celtic equivalent of "You lookin' at me, punk?" or "Go ahead.  Make my day."

Anyone who tuned into the State of the Union address hoping that President Barack Obama would issue such a challenge to those intent on sabotaging his leadership was, to put it mildly, disappointed.  There were no angry words.  There was no fist pounding.  Everything about his delivery was very . . . measured.

Now, calmness in a president is a good thing, for example, when deciding whether go to war.  But, sometimes, a calculated display of  anger is needed to get a point across.  President Obama could have used a couple of those as a signal to his supporters that he is willing to fight for the ideals alluded to in his speech, and as a warning to his opponents that he will show them no quarter in the coming battles.

President Obama should know by now that Congress is full of representatives and senators who are eager to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; who will resist any effort to simplify the tax code, if that means corporations and wealthy individuals will lose tax breaks; and who started popping nitroglycerin pills the minute he mentioned eliminating "the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies."  

These same individuals will use the President's call to simplify burdensome and contradictory federal regulations as an excuse to eliminate health, safety, environmental, and other regulations that their campaign donors find unprofitable; counter any effort to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, and stonewall any effort to deal sensibly with the immigration issue. 

When President Obama discussed rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, developing high-speed rail lines, and extending the reach of wireless to 98 percent of the country, one only had to look at the face of Speaker John Boehner to know that those ideas are going to die a quick death.  Boehner's face continued to display stoney disagreement when the President rejected repeal of the just-passed health care law and said "let's fix what needs fixing and move forward."

Earmarks were the only issue that the President bothered to take a stand on, stating,"If a bill comes to  my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it."  This promise seemed to elicit loud applause from all the newly elected Tea Party members; given the altered seating arrangement in the chamber, however, it was difficult to determine how many of the veteran congressional members cheered the smashing of their pork barrels.

And so it went.  A very inspiring speech delivered in an uninspiring manner to a tepid audience.  It was as though everyone in the chamber was finally admitting they were merely participants in a grand theatrical production that had gone on for so long, they could no longer muster enthusiasm for the performance.  And the lead actor?  The lead actor had been replaced by an understudy.

The Barack Obama who delivered this year's State of the Union address in no way even approximates the man who rallied crowds on the campaign trail.  That man was a loss leader for the old bait and switch trick.  What we got instead of "Yes We Can" is "Maybe."

Maybe we can have a decent health care plan for all Americans if the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry, and members of Congress beholden to them let us.

Maybe we can have financial reform if the banks and brokerage houses let us.

Maybe we can have an equitable tax system if the richest two percent and their pawns on congressional committees let us.

The President wants to be the Great Conciliator.  And that is admirable.  And when you are dealing with reasonable people, quite desirable.  But when you are dealing with self-interested, power hungry bullies, at some point you just have to start knocking heads together and taking names.

Those who elected you, Mr. President, are waiting.

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