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Archive for January, 2010

Obama and sealPresident Obama’s State of the Union address was his most potent, well crafted and well delivered work of sheer eloquence that he has conveyed to the American people since his soaring prose moved a nation to elect him and caused the world to learn his name.  He did what Barack Obama has done since his very first days, he took the center lane and tore off the mirrors, because like in the classic racing movie, The Gumball Rally, “the first rule of Italian racing? What’s behind you doesn’t matter” and what possible good could ever come from following any curb too closely.
He started by acknowledging decades worth of long rooted anxieties and he swiftly pivoted to a theme he would hammer home later on, the fact that we can not afford to be a casualty of partisan gridlock, not now.  He reminded us of America’s proven stubborn resilience in the face of adversity and he framed it with his ever present hopefulness.  It would be the first time the audience would come to their feet in loud unison, but not the last.  He reminded us that fear and division will not break our sprit and then he came to the first course, the economy.
This is where we will hear the first calls of criticism, because any word of criticism for anything he said up to this point would be impossible for anyone that would even try to call themselves a patriot.  Here the boo-birds that are in a froth to find something to nitpick will say, how could he make a joke when he’s talking about the economy, doesn’t he know how much people are suffering, well I’d say that his roots in community organizing should make it a pretty fair bet that he knows exactly how people are suffering right now, so just to nip this in the bud, let me say that it was a perfect binding mechanism to show how we can unifiy to face a common threat, even if it was about being unified by hate over the bank bailout.  He didn’t like it, they didn’t like it, we didn’t like it, nobody liked it, and he rightfully likened it to a root canal.  Love a root canal?  Any takers?  But, I’d bet there were more than a few advertising magnates out there wondering how they could possibly harness that disarming smile.
Then he told America in no uncertain terms what his recovery bill did.  It saved a banking system teetering on the brink of collapse, it initiated 25 different tax cuts for the middle class, for home buyers, for teachers, for parents paying college tuitions … for people just like you and me.  He said point blank that not a single person pays a single dime more in income tax and that the recovery bill saved 2 million jobs from unemployment.  It also created 200,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, it hired 300,000 teachers and it is on track to add 1.5 million more jobs, all an impact from the recovery act, better known as the oft’ hated stimulus bill.
Then he touched the current of  America’s heated third rail, J-O-B-S.  With an ever present eye on the ideal we all hold on to as the American Dream, he made sure to let us know that he does listen, that for every success story the resolute steel of American ingenuity produces there are many more stories of anguish.  So tonight, he called for a new Jobs Bill that will start putting Americans back to work and try to rekindle the dreams and dignity that come from a descent job and a living wage.  He stressed the need to change tact in the modus operandi of our lending institutions, he stressed that their current practice of lending primarily only to big institutions is choking the great American engine that leads to most jobs, the small businesses that are bleeding themselves dry because they can’t get the credit they need to competitively expand their businesses and provide those new, much needed jobs.  I’m a victim myself, so I can certainly attest to the veracity of this particular problem.
Then he began hitting more than one note at a time and started with more complex chords.  He used a bass line of putting Americans to work by building the infrastructure of tomorrow and then added the mid range notes of asking how long we should put America’s future on hold, while reminding us that China’s not waiting, Gemany’s not waiting,  nobody else is waiting, why should we? The he artfully plucked the high tones of American pride, “I do not accept second place for America!” and neither should we or those responsible for governing.
And after his recent rollout of banking fees he made sure to make clear that his interest is not a partisan shot to punish banks, but a non-partisan attempt to protect the economy.  He also showed some long awaited moxie by drawing a clear line in the sand, if a bill made it to his desk that does not meet his test of serving the American people, he will send it back until they get it right. He sent a clear signal that rolling over would not be part of any equation.
He talked about creating new jobs building state-of-the-art clean nuclear power plants and as an olive branch for bipartisan support he talked about expanding to new offshore areas for oil and gas development, as well as biomass and clean coal,  and yes a comprehensive clean energy bill that will make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, all the while beating the drum we all want to hear, that America should lead the world in these fields of tomorrow, adding the needed emphasis with the hammer that the nation that leads the green energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.
Then he expanded on his plans for America in the global marketplace by setting a goal to double American exports in the next five years and add 2 million new jobs in the process.  On the note of maintaining our competitiveness in the global marketplace, he also talked about investing in the skills and education of our workforce and crystallized his ambition to do it by telling us that the best remedy for poverty is a world class education.  How do we get there?  We start by redistributing the money from those unnecessary fees imposed by banks on student loans and applying it to give a $10,000 tax credit for 4 years of college, because “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
Then he got to the crown of thorns that has been the talk of the chattering class for the last few months, Health Care Reform.  Knowing that this is the bully pulpit’s strongest hour by far, he started off by trying to finally clear the misconceptions about his agenda that have been stretched and skewed by everyone from the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the far right to the Blue Dog democrats staking conservative ground in democrat’s clothing.  Howard Dean even had a lot of, let’s say imaginative, thingsto say from the left. So he started with this simplistic plea about his ambitions for Health Care Reform, “Let’s clear some things up.”  He fully accepted the blame for not explaining his case for Health Care Reform clearly enough to the American people and did his best to rectify that shortcoming.  He went on to say that he didn’t decide to take on this problem that has been lingering unfixed in our nation for decades for any kind of notch on his belt or because, as he jokingly said, that it was good politics, he is pursuing it because of the countless stories of desperation he has heard from all over the country.  He vowed to never walk away from this challenge and threw the gauntlet to the halls of congress for them not to walk away from the American people on this paramount issue either.  Then he opened the floor for partisan obstructionism to put its money where its mouth is, if anybody has a better idea on how to achieve a better health care system that will ensure quality care for every American, he’s all ears.  You have a better idea? He’s listening.  All he asks is just don’t walk away from reform, let’s find a way to come together and finally serve the will of the American people.
Then he got into the realities of the budget numbers that he is being so critically judged on by the media and the American public.  He started with the $200 billion surplus that was the legacy of the Clinton administration, then he talked about the multi-trillion dollar mess he had waiting for him before he even walked in the door.  He told us that he knows that many Americans are suffering and have tightened their belts to the limit to try to weather the storm.  He said government should be responding in kind and if anyone was thinking of testing his resolution on this, he vowed that if he has to enforce this discipline by the power of his veto, he will, and just for good measure he also vowed to overturn a recently failed bill by executive order, so if anyone is thinking about trying to strike this guy out, they better bring a pretty strong bull pen of pitchers with them because he wants to take a novel new concept for a spin on capitol hill, common sense.
Then we got to see President Obama in his natural element, that of a constitutional law professor.  Those were indeed some sour faces on the supreme court justices when they were getting publicly flogged by the President in the hottest spotlight that an address to the American public can offer, and getting admonished on that stage for changing a century of law by their decision to open the flood gates of limitless influence in American political elections by any deep pocketed special interest group, or even any foreign entity for that matter, must not have made for a pleasant evening for five of them.  I have a pretty strong feeling that he is going to own this ground before all is said and done on this catastrophic decision.
Then he finally did what I’ve been waiting for someone to finally do, loudly and publicly, he took to task the monstrosity that partisan politics has become.  He looked congress square in the eye and told them that legislation can not be reduced to things as meaningless as old grudges between senators, and that while blindly saying no may be good politics for self preservation, it is certainly not a wise path to choose to good leadership. 
Then he closed with in his patented Obama’esque fashion.  He talked about our connected destiny with those beyond our shores, he talked about doing the right things because we know that they are right by virtue of the long held values that forged our nation, the fundamental decency that is the core of the American people.  He rekindled that spark of enduring hope.
And if you were looking for a “read my lips”, or a “the buck stops here” moment for the history books, here is one from his closing sentence and an ample portion of American spirit that should fit the bill:
Ladies and gentleman, the state of our union is strong, but it will take something from all of us to make it even stronger.  I hope for all our sakes that everyone from Joe the plumber to the chosen few in the halls of power that have the opportunity to wield the power of change were listening.
we the people
The state of our union is strong. 
 Ever since George Washington declared the “favorable prospects of our public affairs” in 1790, every president since has taken great care in giving us comfort by expressing to the nation that all is well.  Even during some of our most miserable times, like the Great Depression, or the Vietnam War, the annual address to the nation has always been painted with the brush of optimism and I’m sure that legacy will continue tonight when Barack Obama makes his pitch to the American people about where we are and where we should be trying to go.  But, the sad truth is that our collective future is being held hostage by legislators that seem to have forgotten what their true duties really are, they have forgotten what their commitment and service to the American people should entail and I hope that tonight, somehow, they will be taken to task in a most public and embarrassing way, but it would only be just if this particular tongue lashing was a very bipartisan one because the fault does not lie squarely on any one side.
 Just one short year ago, Barack Obama rode into the White House with a clear mandate from the American people to bring change to the long broken culture of Washington and with our precious votes we hoped that we, at long last, found a man that would finally be able to start reining in the power of deep-pocketed special interests and any other obstructionists to our prosperity wherever they were found.  It pains me greatly to say it, but if we were a monarchy, or even worse, an iron-fisted dictatorship, one man may just have been able to do that job, but we are not.  We are a free thinking, free speaking and free living democratic society that have entrusted our future to a chosen few.  We embrace a democracy that was founded on the vision that the voice of the people would be heard above all else and that collectively we would lead our nation to great heights by choosing and voting only those into power that would represent our voice and that through that power of democracy we would choose and empower great individuals that would spend every breath striving to see the vision that we want as a people become realized.  What we seem to have instead is a bunch of selfish egomaniacs that only serve one ambition, self preservation.
 Sadly, at this crucial moment in our nation’s history, we are letting them get away with it by means of the far too prevalent flaw that is the bane of the modern era, complacency.  When did we become a nation so fixated on partisan politics that we forgot the true, noble  agendas that formed our parties to begin with?  When did our voices become so weak that we no longer follow the moral compass that allowed us to become the greatest and most advanced nation on earth?  I am disgusted with partisan politics that take into account nothing more than individual agendas, where scoring points for party instead of for country is an accepted mode of governing. 
 When Barack Obama exploded onto the national stage with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he did it by rekindling the patriotic fire that makes us proud Americans.  He did it by illuminating the dangerous mockery that the battle of red vs blue has become, he did it by speaking in grander terms than party lines, he did it by connecting to our mutual ambitions, he did it by making us remember that the future we want to create for the generations to follow will not be forged by endless bickering over comparatively small idealistic issues that have long divided us along a partisan line, but by finally stepping over that line to meet the common aspirations we all share, regardless of party affiliations. 
 Partisan politics is quickly becoming a grotesque abomination of the mechanism it was intended to be and it has and will continue to cost us all dearly if we keep sitting on the sidelines waiting for any of these Grand Poobas to risk their own political neck in even the most miniscule way.  How dare the Republican caucus approach our president with a preconceived idea to repel any legislation before it is even reasonably discussed for fear that it would show party weakness to do otherwise, even if it would benefit the American people that have done their fair share of suffering under the current unsustainable trajectory that we have been on for too long already.  To me, that borders on treason and should be dealt with by severe means in kind .  By the same token, how dare any Democrat tuck their tail on Health Care Reform because it is harder to pass without a filibuster proof majority, or to threaten to scrap the whole thing because even a single component is not to their liking. That is not how change happens people and it is time we hold them all accountable for their dereliction of their duty to us.  
 Barack Obama had a 70% approval rating from the American people when he was sworn into office and it was no mystery that Health Care Reform was one of his main priorities, so why should we be punished for the failure of congress to legislate our wishes? Why should the many Americans that pays for our future with their own blood, sweat, and tears expect any less from those in the halls of power?  If their seat is sacrificed because they stood on principle and not on the party line, they should sacrifice it gladly if they are truly worthy of their position. 
 I for one would not be saddened if we would finally remove the little Ds and Rs from everyone’s name on a ballot and make it more about the people’s wishes than the idealism of a particular party. I also would not be at all opposed to limiting congressional terms to the same 8 year limit imposed on our president, maybe then every decision would not be made through the lens of career-oriented, selfish political swordsmanship. 
 I know this, the majority of America will agree with Barack Obama tonight on a very personal level because he will rise to the occasion once again and vocalize our collective dreams and aspirations.  He will touch on the same hopes that made the whole world swoon during his historic election and forced even politicians in other countries to change tact because they saw how receptive their own people where to his global message of hope and they heard the grumbling from their own constituents about not having their own Obama-like leader to take the wheel.  But, when the speech is done and the lights are turned off, it will be up to us to hold accountable those that have the true power to make those dreams realities, those that have been granted the privilege to represent US, not themselves or their own best interests. 
 For any hope of progress, I think it is high time we realized that our country must be governed from the center, not the far left or far right.  To try to do it any other way will just propagate the stifling gridlock we have come to know all too well and we will never even catch a whiff of the change we so loudly clamored for in 2008.  Our failure to hold the House and Senate accountable for their inaction at this defining moment in our history will bring about nothing but more of the same in the end. 
 So tonight, listen with your heart as well as your head and if you agree in part, or in whole, with the direction and agenda that will be laid before you, make your voices heard to those that you put in position to represent you.  Make it your own mission to hold them accountable to get the American gravy train back onto the track it was always meant to be on.  “I must do something” always accomplishes more than “something must be done” and if our legislators in congress are not getting it done, it is up to each and every one of us to make their lives a miserable living hell until they do.  Silence can not be an option.
 The greatest thing about our nation is that even in the most dire times, even in the face of the greatest adversities, the one thing that we can always count on is the fact that the state of our “union” will always be strong.   It is only the state of our partisan “disunion” that could ever threaten to unravel it and that is something that no American should ever stand for.