Why I’m Skipping Obama’s State of the Union

I won’t be watching President Obama’s State of the Union speech. It’s not that I don’t enjoy his speeches — having seen more than of all other presidents combined — but the problem is the disconnect between Speechmaker Obama and President Obama. Speechmaker Obama is always “fighting for working families,” “battling powerful interests,” and advocating for “Main Street” over Wall Street.

But President Obama’s actions do not match his rhetoric. I saw Speechmaker Obama give a powerful speech in support of working families at the AFL-CIO convention in September, only to see President Obama back excise taxes on union and working families’ health care. Speechmaker Obama has railed against special interests, while the President made backroom deals with Big Pharma and appointed Wall Street insiders to key financial posts.

Now President Obama’s State of the Union gives him yet another chance to signal to his base that he “feels their pain.” But activists must take a “Show Me” approach to President Obama, demanding action on core campaign pledges rather than being mollified by the Speechmaker’s Siren call.

I’ve watched nearly all of Barack Obama’s great speeches since the start of 2008, and attended his powerful nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver. I was also present when Obama addressed the AFL-CIO in September, where he stated that “when organized labor succeeds, our middle class succeeds, and when our middle-class succeeds, the United States of America succeeds. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

Obama’s AFL-CIO Speech: Rhetoric vs Actions
President Obama’s September 15 speech to AFL-CIO Convention delegates in Pittsburgh perfectly embodies the disconnect between his oratory and actions.

After leading the crowd in chanting “Health Care Can’t Wait,” Speechmaker Obama told the assembled union audience everything they wanted to hear. And then President Obama failed to move forward on any of labor’s priorities, while backing an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” (now described as “Chevrolet”) health benefit plans impacting a third of union members.

The President who identified himself as a strong ally of union households forced the AFL-CIO to spend political capital on preventing a tax on union families. A tax that he had long told labor that he opposed, and that he never told convention attendees in Pittsburgh.that he could possibly support.

Obama’s Health Care Speech
Remember Speechmaker Obama’s September 9 nationally televised health care speech that was widely viewed as getting the health care bill back on track? Our Paul Hogarth cited E.J. Dionne’s rosy assessment in the Washington Post: “It seemed as if a politician who had been channeling the detached and cerebral Adlai Stevenson had discovered a new role model in the fighting Harry Truman. For the cause of health-care reform, it was about time.”

But President Obama never adopted this fiery “fighting” Harry Truman style. By November he had returned to the sidelines on health care, leaving Harry Reid — never mistaken for Truman — leading the fight.

My Last Obama Speech: Afghanistan
The best evidence of how President Obama has maintained progressive support through words rather than actions could be his December 1 West Point speech on his Afghanistan war strategy. I turned the speech off after ten minutes, as it sounded too much like the Bush Administration.

But progressive sentiment on the blogosphere was surprisingly mixed toward Obama’s troop escalation. Even some who disagreed with him praised his “principled” decision making, his reliance on reasoned rather than emotional appeals, and the highly questionable claim that, despite the recent fraudulent Afghan election, this now dramatic escalation was “what he said he would do.”

Speechmaker Obama’s oratory had convinced much of his base to quietly accept an extension of George W. Bush’s war goals. And no matter how doubtful President Obama’s strategy appears in light of increased problems outside Afghanistan, his December speech appears to have chilled serious progressive dissent.

So I’ll skip watching the State of the Union. And I reached this decision well before learning of Obama’s politically disastrous plan to announce a three-year domestic spending freeze. Speechmaker Obama’s efforts to sell that economic plan to a Democratic base reeling from rising unemployment and stretched pocketbooks may even exceed his mighty oratory skills, and could leave President Obama’s base wondering what happened to the candidate they elected.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the new book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press). Randy discusses how to keep politicians accountable in The Activist’s Handbook

Republished with permission from Beyond Chron

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  1. says

    I Will Not Quit” President Obama

    January 28, 2010 by politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com

    “ I Will Not Quit” President Obama.

    I listened to President Obama’s first State of the Union speech with a group of people in Washington, D.C. (“Progressive
    State of the Union Watch Party @ Local 16 in DC!”) During the speech, the audience seemed to be energized, supportive, spirited, and mesmerized by the president’s speech giving ability. Who wouldn’t?

    Some of the loudest applause from the audience came, when the President said:

    *“… realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response.”

    *“I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

    *“we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.”

    *“To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.”

    *“At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door.”

    *“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”

    *“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws — so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.”

    There was some laughter whenever some grim faces appeared on the screen. (McCain, Boehner, Alito, etc.) There was also some murmur of some disagreement and suspicion heard, when the President spoke of “ clean-coal technologies.”

    My Take.

    The “I will not Quit” speech as an oration was fantastic. As it is popularly stated,” the devil is in the detail”. To me, the issue is the difference between image and substance, reality and politics. It is the difference between shallow promise and commitment kept. In other words, is this speech only a rhetoric or an admittance of mistakes committed, and a promise of going back to uphold the political plank that the President was voted in to office? Is this Obama’s renaissance speech?

    Has the President learned from the lessons of the election results of Nov.3rd. 2009?

    “The disappointment of the progressive forces that helped put Obama in the White House. (Especially young white voters). Disparity between campaign rhetoric and reality.” Politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com (nov.09)

    Is President Obama conscious of the failure of the so-called bipartisanship?
    “While the idea of bipartisanship sounds very appealing, let us not forget, what it actually denotes is abandonment of principle. Moreover, let us ask how bipartisanship has helped move Obama’s policies. The fact is, that the Republicans are working to block everything that the President is proposing. They want him to fail. They want the Democrats to loose seats in both Houses of Congress. Which, they will. Republicans clearly understand that they have a partisan agenda which is different from the Democrats. It is only the spineless Democrats who want to be loved by all. By bending backward for the cooperation of the Republicans, President Obama will end up antagonizing the people that elected him.” Politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com (lessons from President Johnson.Nov.09)
    In dealing with health care, is the president considering the poll results in the aftermath of the Massachusetts election debacle?
    “A poll of Obama voters conducted by Research 2000 on election night in Massachusetts paints a very different picture. The poll found that 18 percent of people who voted for Brown also voted for Obama in the 2008 general election. Of these voters, 82 percent said they wanted a public option, and 57 percent said they thought the health care reform bill in Congress did not go far enough. The poll also found that among the Obama voters who stayed home, 86 percent said they wanted a public option, and by 6-to1 they said the bill in Congress did not go far enough.” “Opinion: Lead Health Care Reform With Conviction.” Dr. Howard Dean.
    We shall see.
    Professor Mekonen Haddis

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