Wednesday, 27. January 2010 18:53
I’ll be live-blogging the SOTU Address here at 7. Be sure to tune in!
7:00 pm – Just to talk a bit about the process tonight. This is a joint-session of Congress. So both houses of Congress will be in attendance, in addition to most of the important members of the executive as well as the justices of the Supreme Court. One member of the executive in the presidential line will not attend, in the unlikely event of some disaster that would strike the Capitol. The Seargent of Arms will announce the President who will enter from the back and continue through the Chamber (shaking hands with the MOC’s) and then ascend the dias to give his speech. Behind him will sit the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) and the Vice President (Joe Biden). The speech will run between 30 and 60 minutes, interrupted frequently by applause.
On the substance, expect a great deal of populism (anti-Wal Street, criticism of Banks, etc.) and an attempt to recast and reformulate his legislative priorities. He won’t abandon health care or cap and trade…more likely he will call for a bipartisan bill on both and attempt to put a patina of ‘job creation’ on both. He will have to address the unemployment rate and the angst over the economy, so expect some concrete proposals on what we can do to boost jobs.
7:16 pm – I’m interested to see if the TV ratings for the SOTU will be off this January. Obama has set new records for speech making and, in an unprecedented move, had two seperate joint sessions of Congress prior to his first SOTU to promote health care. He may be a bit overexposed, and hence folks may be less interested in his SOTU now rather than if he had been off of the tube a bit more in his first 12 months.
7:25 pm Word is Obama is going to call for an appeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning gays from the military. This was a big stumbling block for Clinton in the 1990’s…but American public opinion on homosexuality has softened since then. This is one of those interesting polling questions. Repeal of DADT has alot of support in the American public, but it is soft support. The opposition seems to feel more strongly about it than most of those who support it. Furthermore, it never ranks very highly on ‘important social issues’ identified by the American public. This would clearly be a sop to Obama’s Left constituency, as gay rights activists have been highly critical of his first year in office.
8:07 pm President Obama is making his way down, shaking hands, and we’re close to our first SOTU address of the Obama administration.
8:11 PM President Obama starts it off using a common begining…reciting the history of SOTU’s. Uses it to segway into talking about some of the darker moments in American history as a way to talk about American perseverence, using the phrase “we are tested.” Clearly Obama is using this as a teaching moment. To paraphrase his basic point: “American people, remember what *could* have happened, had you not elected me.”
8:14 PM His first few minutes are about recounting the problems he confronted entering the office – two wars, economic resession, financial system collapse. But I have to wonder if folks aren’t nodding along there…and then wondering why we spent the last 12 months on health care.
8:17 PM Next theme – Hope. A few lines on American strength and “delivering on the promise.” It begins “with the economy.” Obama claims to have “hated the bank bailout.” OK, but what about the auto bailout that your administration pressed for? What makes the bank bailout worse than the auto bailout?
8:19 PM I’m a bit confused. He “hated” the bank bailout. It was Bush’s idea. But he then tells us that they worked and avoided a potential depression. So what’s to hate? Here he segways to his bank tax. A bit of populist rhetoric, talking about the bank bonuses.
8:19 PM Alot of talk about tax cuts passed. Mentioned about five. Gets alot of applause. But I’m not sure his overall point here (we’ve cut taxes!) works given the enormous tax increases he proposed in his health care plan and cap and trade plans. He credits his stimulus plan (the Recovery Act) with job creation (saving jobs, averting disaster). Most presidents do this…and it is usually exaggerated, at best. Obama is no exception.
8:24 PM Several anecdotes on the good the Recovery Act did (I suspect the fact checkers will be after them soon). Then moves into a call for a new Jobs bill. A second stimulus. Tepid applause.
8:25 PM He has moved on to a new theme…now talking about small businesses and market job creation with government helping make the economic environment conducive to that creation. Proposes using some of the TARP money (bank bailout) to give to community banks for credit…and a proposal for a small business tax credit, and an eliminatoin of capital gains taxes on “small businesses”…not sure how he is going to define that category. Another call for the jobs bill.
8:30 PM Oh, here we go. He frames it in terms of talking about the “last decade”…talks about the bad economic times (and how the good was built on a housing bubble). Clear implication – Remember how bad you had it under Bush? Heh. Talking about “how long should we wait” to rebuild our economy and the fact other countries (China) are not waiting. This is one of those rhetorical techniques he uses – the straw-man false dichotomy. He straw mans the opposition “wait on doing something to promote the economy” and then the other side of the dichotomy is his position – “let’s not wait!” Of course, no one is suggesting we ‘wait’ or ‘do nothing.’ Others simply believe that what ought to be ‘done’ is different from what Obama advocates.
8:35 PM Wants investment in “clean energy.” This is the “cap and trade” portion of the program. Ah, but he also calls for more nuclear power plants and offshore oil drilling / energy development. That’s new. But vague. No specific policy proposal. Cap and trade is a bill…and it doesn’t have either of those two things in it. A bit of moderation there…but still talks about clean coal, and there it is, the cap and trade bill. He can dream on. Cap and trade is about as dead as you get.
8:37 PM Obama cites the “overwhelming scientific evidence” on climate change…strong negative reaction from the Republicans. Seems like every day there’s a new global warming fudged-science scandal, and public opinion polls show the public is behind the Republicans here. I thought Obama did a good job in responding to that – “even if you doubt it you can get behind support for policies that increase energy efficency.”
8:39 PM We’re getting a laundry list of goals here. Includes education and free trade.
8:41 PM Doesn’t frame this way, but calls for the federal government to take over student loans. It’s a proposal Dems have had…but I’m not sure I see a good reason to crowd out private lenders. He also calls for loan forgiveness…a popular proposal for those of us with big college loan debt.
8:41 PM Here we are…40 minutes into the speech, and we’ve got our first reference to health insurance. He says we need “health insurance reform.” Starts it off with a nice bit of self-depricating humor “I obviously didn’t take up health care because it is good politics.” But he argues it is necessary. Gives a list of “benefits” of the health insurance policy. Not alot different here than what he gave in the joint-session last year. Does an aside about Michelle’s campaign against childhood obesity. Again, it is all the same arguments – health care reform will bring down costs and reduce the deficit. I don’t think the umpteenth time is the charm. Talks about a failure to “explain.” That’s not the problem, Mr. President. People simply don’t like your plan.
8:48 PM Obama says “let me know” if you have another reform package that will accomplish the things he thinks his health care proposal will accomplish. Well, I’m pretty sure there are some proposals out there: tort reform, national health care market, delinking health insurance from employment, etc. But tort reform is unlikely with the Democrats so beholden to the trial lawyers.
8:51 pm Now he is on to deficits. Blames Bush for most of it. Hits the prescription drug program…that’s pretty hypocritical. Say what you will about the Bush prescription drug program…it is alot cheaper than his health reform program will be. He segways to his policy proposal: discretionary spending freeze for three years. Problem is – there simply isn’t alot of money that falls under the category of “discretionary spending.” IOW, most of the federal budget will be unaffected by this freeze. Entitlement reform would be a real budet tightening proposal…but Hell will freeze over before a Democrat proposes reforming Medicare or Social Security.
8:53 pm Calls for a bi-partisan commission on government spending. Will issue an executive order to call it into being. Hard to get excited about yet another government commission and w/o Congressional approval it is unlikely to accomplish anything. They rarely have any impact. Calls for a return to “pay-as-you-go” budgeting…that would be a real change…but it is unlikely to happen in this Congress. And Obama isn’t even calling for any of this until next year. After the Novemeber elections. Not exactly a strong commitment to fiscal discipline.
8:56 pm This is classic Obama. Again with the false dualism and a straw man depiction of his opposition. His opposition wants to “do nothing”…whereas he wants to “invest in our future.” And he wraps it up with the now expected “we can’t continue with the same tired old argument” it is time to “try something new.” The implication being Obama’s ideas are new and his opposition’s are “tired” and “old.” But is more government spending and centralized goverment economic control really a “new” idea?
8:58 pm Attacks the USSC decision on campaign finance reform. Encourages a “bill to correct these problems.” Obama is a constitutional scholar, he has to know you can’t legislate away a USSC decision on the Constitution. This is just a political sop…he knows there is nothing to be done.
8:59 pm Call for earmark reform. Good idea…but I’ll believe it when I see it.
9:00 pm Looks like we might be in a wrap-up here. Not really sure where he is going with this. Ah, I get it now – attacking delay and obstruction. Looks like he is calling for an end to “holds”…that’s an ancient Senate tradition…doubt it is going anywhere. His criticism will likely resonate [particularly with frustrated liberal members of the House]…not many people like these sort of arcane political mechanisms…but this rhetoric is not likely to change these institutional rules. Institutions are very “sticky” to use a bit of formal theoretical parlance.
9:03 pm Reminds his fellow Democrats that “they have a responsibility to govern…not run for the hills.” Cold comfort to the vulnerable Democrats. Says Republicans now have a responsibility to legislate…that’s true. But if you are saying “Republicans should join me on my policies” rather than “I’m ready to compromise and adopt some of your ideas” then this is just partisan rhetoric.
9:04 pm “Reject the false choice”…another classic Obama line. The problem is that it *is* a false choice…and the one who came up with it is…Obama! Heh.
9:05 pm Talks about Afghanistan. Wants to finish the job and bring the troops home. Obama is “confident we will succeed.” Taking “the fight to Al Quaeda.” Says we will have “all of our combat troops out of Iraq” by the end of August. Looks like that is a safe bet…Iraq is pretty calm right now. Still, need to get through the next election.
9:07 pm “Support the troops when they come home.” That got unanimous applause. Increase investments for veterans. That rhetoric gets bipartisan support.
9:08 pm WMD’s. Cites JFK and Reagan. Reduce nuclear stockpiles, talks about an arms control treaty with Russia. Problem – most Americans aren’t concerned about our own nukes or Russia’s…but rather the hostile regimes (North Korea, Iran) developing a capacity to build their own nukes.
9:10 pm Iran will face “growing consequences.” But nothing specific here. Just a single line on them.
9:10 pm Sounds like a final paragraph here. Summarizing his administration goals. “Our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. We also do it because it is right.” Ah, talks about helping Hati. Again, bipartisan support there.
9:12 pm Obama is advocating active internationalism…but in terms of aid here, not force.
9:13 pm Talks about how he has strengthened the federal “civil rights division” and wants [another] hate crimes bill. And there we go…the call for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Cracking down on violations of “equal pay” laws. We’re on to a laundry list here. Ah, there’s immigration reform. It’s legislation for everybody! heh.
9:15 pm OK…I think this is the wrap up paragraph. American values…not Republican or Democrat, business or labor, etc. values. Talks about a loss of confidence in institutions…including government. Whoops, we’re back on the populism train (attacking bankers…then lobbyists…another false dichotomy)…ha! After the media! Leave Fox News alone, Barak! LOL. Seriously, he soooo needs to drop the whole media criticism thing. It is not working for him. Back to the speech…talks about Hope and Change. “Never said it would be easy or that I could do it alone.” Public officeholders can “play it safe” or “do what is best for the next generation.” Another false dichotomy. It could be that playing it safe (i.e. rejecting Obama’s policies) is ALSO what is best for the next generation. But that’s a third choice…and Obama loves his false dichotomies.
9:18 pm OK, he is back to talking about American resiliance…this seems like a repeat of the first paragraph. Obviously that’s intentional…but I don’t think it works. If you missed the first 20 minutes it is OK…listening to it live it just seems repetitious. “Seize this moment.” “I won’t quit.” “Let’s bring home the dream.” It is powerful rhetoric…but we’ve heard it before. We’ll see if it has any effect…I have my doubts.
9:21 pm And that’s it for the SOTU. Obama admitted he had had some setbacks…but for the most part he continued to make the same arguments he has made for 6 months. There was no pivot to the center here…he stuck with health care, cap and trade, and the rest of his policies. Attempted an outsider argument (referenced “Washington” seven times…but he’s been President for a year. He IS Washington. The outsider rhetoric doesn’t really work now, right?). The USSC attack seemed inappropriate to me, and I suspect it will to many observers. Attacks on the court are usually a bad idea. Alot of feel your pain kind of language…I’m not sure that’s where Obama’s strengths in rhetoric lie. If you’re a conservative or moderate Democrat with a tough re-election race, did you find some comfort in this speech? I don’t think so. I give the speech an A on delivery, a C- on content, and a D- as a game changer. Not alot of news here.