The State of the Union Is "What the Fuck Do You Want From Me?":
After a bit of how-we-got-here exposition, Barack Obama began his first State of the Union mega-speech by asserting that he was right. Talking about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama said, "Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. And we're on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year. The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That's right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill." (Of course, these numbers can be argued with, but, for the most part, there'd be a fuck of a lot more unemployment without the Recovery Act.)
Now, you remember the way Obama approached putting together the Recovery Act? He wanted Republicans on board. For that reason, Democrats agreed to shift billions in stimulus to tax cuts, until it made up a third of the cost of the bill. And they agreed to make the bill smaller than what Obama wanted. The reward for working with Republicans? Not a single one voted for it in the House and just Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and then-Republican Arlen Specter did so in the Senate.
In other words, despite every attempt at true bipartisanship, Obama was rewarded with almost no Republican votes. Yet the Act worked. Obama's stimulus plan, passed by Democrats, worked as designed in staving off even greater economic strife, and it's still working. And, as he said without saying it last night, Obama and the Democrats were right and the Republicans were wrong. The problem is that he should have said it explicitly. He should have said that Americans have Democrats almost completely to thank for those two million jobs, for those new cops, for the roadwork, for the schools, for the tax cuts to families. And he should have said it because it was the truth. And, in an ideal universe, he should have added what the economy would have looked like had Republicans gotten their way.
Instead, what we got for most of the rest of the speech was Obama asking, "What the fuck do you want?" Like a man desperately trying to keep a betraying lover from leaving, he was willing to give and give: spending freeze, more tax cuts, c'mon, baby, what'll it take? On the other side, Obama gave liberals some meat, too, in the form of calls for equal pay and an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell (although, you know, he could end it right now, if he wanted). The elusive hope of bipartisanship is gone, yet Obama keeps trying, as if he could will it into being like a crazed TV doctor jolting a dead patient with a defibrillator again and again until being dragged off and told, "He's dead." Goddamn, we think, that's one caring motherfucker; too bad he couldn't save that bipartisan dude.
It's becoming almost insane to keep trying. You look at the smug faces of those GOP cocksuckers watching the speech, laughing at stupid shit they say to each other, muttering bullshit so the cameras can see they're displeased, taking the olive branch and setting it on fire and shoving it up Obama's ass. They don't give a shit what Obama has to say. They don't give a shit what the majority wants. They have one mode, and it's not negation of what Obama is trying to do. That would require action. It's to prevent anything from occurring. Why?
Because when Republicans allowed one major piece of legislation to pass, it fucking worked. Holy shit, that's got to have scared the fuck out of Republicans: what if the Congress enacts the major initiatives of the President and they work, like the stimulus? What if health care reform actually reforms the health care system? What if climate change legislation actually creates jobs? What if they are wrong? It's better for nothing to happen and then claim credit for stopping a train wreck before the train left the station.
But Republicans needn't have worried about taking too much blame. Even his gentle swipes at Republicans and the Bush administration were too subtle for this dunderheaded nation. Obama said, "We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can," and he interjected, "I'm speaking to both parties now." Except he didn't have to say it to Democrats.
Obama keeps trying to unify us. He keeps trying to tell us how we need to give up cynicism about government and see beyond party labels and ignore the bullshit reductionism of contemporary media. At some point, he has to act without regard to pleasing all political parties. That means he has to just press forward with what he believes is right without making sure everyone's cool with it. And then his job will be to do what he almost did at the top of the State of the Union: to explain, "This is what we did, and this is how your life is better. And don't you want us to continue to do that?" Sharing in progress and results, that's how the country becomes united, not in figuring out how everyone can be right all the time. It's less important to change the tone in Washington than to change the policies. Change the fucking tone in your second term, okay?
This speech wasn't that kind of moment. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good, and it wasn't new. It's essentially what he told us at the Democratic Convention and on election night. He attempted to not piss anyone off. He rekindled a little of the old romantic fire with those of us who support him. "I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone," he said. Most of us didn't believe it would be easy. We just believed it would be possible.