Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Union

The handful of people who actually follow this blog probably, I'm guessing, expect me to say something about the State of the Union address given by the President last night. I've been trying to figure out what to say all day, and I'm not sure I'm there yet, even now.

Of course, I'm disappointed that we went a half-hour without hearing about health care, although I didn't hate what the President said when he finally got there. But still, I'm saddened, not only by the fact that he has backed off health care's importance to the American people and our economy, but by the fact that the entire speech seemed to carry with it the naive optimism that has undermined President Obama's progress for the past year. I say naive because he still seems to believe that bipartisanship is possible with a far-right Republican party that represents a very small part of our society, and that has, as its primary goal, the defeat of anything that might look like a victory to President Obama. This naivete was demonstrated most clearly when the President actually broke from his script to express surprise that the Republicans did not applaud when he said he favored some tax cuts. Why is he still surprised?

I don't want to turn this blog into a partisan political comment and I rarely talk here about Republicans and Democrats for that reason. But it's important to keep in mind that the Republicans in Congress are pretty far to the right of those members of the American public who identify themselves as Republicans. While the Democrats in Congress span the spectrum, from far left to Blue Dog moderate/right, the Republicans in Congress are not representative of Republicans generally; they are right-wing idealogues who have hijacked the party, causing the ranks of Independents to swell. And so although there may be the possibility of bipartisanship out there in the heartland, there is no interest in bipartisanship on the right side of the aisle in Congress. President Obama's refusal to accept this reality and persuade Democrats -- who do, in fact, hold a significant majority in Congress -- to just run their agenda is very distressing. It makes me feel as though he is standing in wet cement that is quickly drying.

It's not that I didn't agree with a lot of what the President said. It's that I disagree with who he thinks his audience is. He's trying to persuade people who have pledged to make health care his Waterloo, people who think the Tea Party movement is centrist and populist rather than just a fairly small handful of noisy nuts. In the process, he's failing to hold the Democratic majority together around a set of principles upon which he was elected -- and yes, health care is at the very top of that list.

The reason we don't have health reform is not the Massachusetts special election; the reason we don't have health reform is that the White House allowed Senator Baucus to dither all summer to get Olympia Snowe's one and only Republican vote on the Senate Finance Committee -- a vote that was not sustained when the Senate as a whole voted on the bill. The reason we don't have health reform is that this vision of bipartisanship is so naive and wrong as to completely undermine the President's entire first year.

I wanted to hear President Obama say "screw you who stand in the way of doing the right thing. We WILL have health care, even if it takes using reconciliation, and passing the bill with 51 Senate votes." I wanted to hear President Obama say, as he used to, that NOT passing health reform simply is not an option. I wanted him to argue, as he has in the past, that we cannot fix this economy, create jobs, and put America on equal footing with the rest of the world when we are spending ridiculous amounts of money on health insurance that doesn't cover the care we need, that refuses to cover people who actually get sick, that raises premiums 25% per year. I wanted him to stand with us -- we who have chronic illnesses -- and reflect an understanding of what we live with every single day of our lives.

I didn't hear that. And so, I am disappointed. My heart did not soar as it did when candidate Obama said YES WE CAN!!! Instead, I heard President Obama say, well, maybe we can do a little something here and there. And that simply is not good enough. Jennifer


  1. He kind of did say that. He framed it as opposing health care reform was opposing patients access to care.

    He also framed it within the economic context and talked about how reform would put money in people's pockets, which is the biggest problem out there right now.

    He did what he could. And by telling off the Supreme Court, he fired a warning shot about opponents of reform. He also took on lobbyists and Washington as usual.

    I don't think it's an accident that we read about a bill passing in a few weeks this morning--see The Plum Line.

    Overall, great speech. And the reality is that the President isn't all powerful. But it was a big step forward.

  2. I was disappointed, but not surprised, by Mr Obama's speech. It was filled with typical empty rhetoric, incorrect information (transparency of the health care debate, jobs created by the stimulus packages), and a continued tendency to blame the previous administation.

    Mr. Obama, you have been in office for a full year with party majorities in both houses and have little to hang your hat on. How much longer must be wait for the promises of health care, economic recovery, and fiscal responsibility? If the election in Massachusetts didn't make clear American displeasure, perhaps November's mid-term elections will.

  3. Disagree. The President has turned 6.5% economic decline into 4% economic growth. He's halted the job losses--granted at too high of a level. He's expanded access to health care (CHIP and COBRA changes). He's dramatically raised America's soft power in the world. And he's been a very effective administrator of the executive branch.

    Is it enough? That's why he gets a 4 year term.