The past couple of nights had been rough for Barack. In the depths of the White House, avoiding Michelle and probably sneaking past the Secret Service for anxious midnight smokes, the President had been restless, hashing together his third State of the Union address, which he gave to approximately 42.8 million viewers last night.
With vague memories of this guy in the crowd the first time and Tea Party sentiment rising after midterm elections the second go-around, Obama faced a whole different ball game after a year where the Occupy movement pushed income inequality to the forefront of the national discussion and his approval ratings dropped to a standard third-year 44.4%. The punditocracy honed in on every syllable of the speech, Twitter imploded with more hashtags than actual words, Mitch Daniels’ GOP response began with a Super Bowl shout out and Joe Biden’s nasal drip distracted everyone throughout the whole damn thing. Here is what the President did right, did wrong and a few things he left out:
Go Populist or Go Home: First, foremost and obviously, Barack appealed to his real base (score one for Occupy Wall Street). Phrases like “equal playing field,” “fair shot” and “same set of rules” were dramatically repeated, as well as the announcement of the creation of a financial crimes investigative unit, an FBI for loan sharks if you will. He did this for a reason: three years into his Presidency, the middle and lower classes have seen the rich get richer; they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.
He spoke to a population of people who overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the 1% so pulling the William Jennings Bryan/FDR (history nerds, rejoice!) card only helped the President… and made Romney, who pays less in taxes than most of your parents, sound like Daddy Warbucks (so not “in” in 2012). We had the opportunity to hear our commander-in-chief say the word “copout,” trump the success of the auto industry (is the Hummer coming back?!) and he even brought two ex-unemployed workers (Brian and Jackie) with him to show Republicans that they actually do exist.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?: The President dedicated a major part of his speech to the Millenials; that age group below us that are being raised on iPads instead of Hey Arnold. Reward teachers when they do their job and raise educational standards so our next generation has a fighting chance when they’re dumped into the real world bin are all goals we should have for the youngins. We have to admit it, though: the must-graduate-can’t-drop-out thing in high schools… a little weird.
Be gone, fluff: Hope, change, believe, “Yes, We Can,” one state, two state, red state, blue state, one country, one people, etc. Obama ditched this lofty past and adapted a much more accusatory tone, marking a clear line between what was right and what was wrong about the way our country works. It’s about time – the campaign slogans of 2008 were nice and all but didn’t get us anywhere. The President finally recognized that our country is indeed polarized but not by party politics. He concentrated on a divide that he could win the public over with: the rich versus the poor, the bourgeois versus the bum, haute couture versus the hobo.
He talked about green energy a lot! Except he didn’t mention hydrofracking.
Our future: One of the great achievements of the Occupy movement’s legacy was the beginning of a conversation that should have started twenty years ago: how badly we’re all screwed after we complete our Capstones and celebrate our inevitable life of debt at Yankee Stadium. With a national average of $25,250 indebt and private colleges more expensive than ever, students have racked up quite the IOU for an uncertain future (We know we’re preaching to the choir here). Although he announced that he wanted to double the amount of work study jobs and turn community colleges into employment hubs, Obama seemed to shrug at that whole tuition thing: he did not delve into how colleges can be more affordable; just that they should be more affordable. Easier said than done, Mr. President.
Roll Call: Obama started and ended the speech on an Army Strong note, which was fine and all until he compared our country should be more like our military. That comparison, logically, did not make any sense. The American military runs on a top-down hierarchy that’s fueled by unquestionable discipline and honor. The American people run on a smorgasbord of saturated fat, obsessive multi-tasking and reality shows like “Campus PD” and “Swamp People.” Those are completely different parallels of existence; there’s a reason why they are separate from us: we know we’ll never get on their level and we are fine with that.
The Real World?: Iraq? Boom, we won. Osama? Boom, we got ‘em. Qaddafi? Boom, well, the rebels got ‘em. The President reeled off his foreign policy achievements in nanoseconds. Kudos for mentioning Assad’s regime in Syria, the protests in Yemen and the delightful uncertainty of the Arab Spring but more attention should have been paid on Iran and the European debt crisis—two events that could both change the entire global game.
ANOTHER REV. AL GREEN IMPERSONATION?