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State of the Union: What Was, What Wasn't, and What's Being Said as a Result or in Spite of It

Beyond who-clapped-when, who cheered and who scowled, the State of the Union was not simply exceptional because it was positive - and the first legitimate opportunity for a president to truthfully deliver a positive message in a State of the Union in far too many years.

It was essentially a progressive tome, especially in the points that registered the highest approval. And that makes it a clear example that Democrats need to behave as Democrats, and drop all notions of crafting some bastardized message of uninspired and uninspiring "Republican light."

At the same time, the message was sanely reconciliatory. As Al Sporer commented to his Congressman:

"Finally, POTUS gives more than a laundry list of things to be done but a speech to inspire Congress to act TOGETHER to solve important problems! To compromise where they disagree, but ACT!"

The President's speech drew some necessary contrasts, making it likely that disgust with the constipated congress will come home to roost with the obstructionist congressional Republicans who are now in charge. With the perpetual inaction by Congress, widespread disgust crosses party lines.

The speech helped clarify why differences matter.

Those who have looked at the data from atmospheric science, oceanography and glaciology understand the urgent and absolute need for specific steps that transcend all the merely political agendas. The President's clear emphasis on the critical need for bold action to reverse climate change is absolutely the correct message, and one that resonates with many who have waited a long time to hear it.

Moreover, it deserves and requires support and follow-through from every intelligent member of Congress. It is not overdramatic to assert that every citizen who wants a decent future for their children, regardless of the beliefs they want to impart to their child, must press the feet of the power elite to the fire. It is, after all, the fire that emits greenhouse gases in quantities far too high for natural processes to assimilate.

In so many ways, we have a long way to go. The President's State of the Union mixed style and substance to invigorate and encourage, when there have been so many reasons to feel despair, disdain and disgust.

In so many ways, we have a long way to go. The President's State of the Union mixed style and substance to invigorate and encourage, when there have been so many reasons to feel despair, disdain and disgust.

All of us need the coach in the locker room and that transformative speech that empowers us to get back in the game and to do it with hopeful enthusiasm. Of course, a winning coach includes the specific plays that will enable us to score and to play effective defense against opposition who is playing dirty. Tuesday night, the President brought some of all of that.

For progressives, the transcendent inspiration is to sense, to see, and most important, to feel the commitment to progressive ideology, driven by its embrace of science.

In the face of anti-science religious zealots, it is the only reasonable hope we have. That traditional concern has been compounded by mindless demands for "austerity" - even while embracing runaway military spending and ignoring everything else, including military veterans.

Right-wing-dom demands austerity to eliminate government's role in regulating business, industry, and more recently, Wall Street banksters. So the Republican responses - FIVE Republican response speeches - were thoroughly predictable before the horses left the starting gate.

The Republicans may look like the Keystone Cops with so much multiplicity that you need a program to keep the players straight. But this isn't a scorecard exercise of who's up and who's down. A State of the Union affords a seminal moment of opportunity to take the pulse of America.

I spent some time looking at and considering the content - what was and wasn't said in the State of the Union - as well as the public responses to all the speeches.

"Part one" of the Republican "March of the No's" came from the neophyte Senator and self-professed ex-hog castrator from Iowa, Joni Ernst. Throughout her speech, Ernst's "instant" approval ratings, measured by those with hand-controled meters, remained low, even among Republicans. She reached 50% approval only twice, and only then among independents. She never came close to a break-even with those in her own party, and was never remotely close to finding acceptance with Democrats.

An astute social media post from an active political watcher in Portland, Oregon, noted that he felt sorry for Joni Ernst. Well, yeah. The way you feel sorry for any lightweight who got creamed because they were too dumb to know they weren't ready for the NFL.

Pat Costa, commenting in the Portland post on the five official Republican responses, reminded us, "Mark Twain said it best... 'The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.'"

A clever meme is already circulating with cartoon portraits of President Obama and Joni Ernst in two panels. Corresponding captions are SOTU and STFU, respectively.

Which brings us to the plethora of teabag / Faux News trolls who descended with comments. As usual, it's hard to tell if those result from irrational individuals who share an addiction to venting their spleens when anyone says anything with which they disagree, or if there is a semi-organized campaign to inundate the world with viscerally angry comments that are characteristically devoid of substance.

There are, sadly, an abundance of examples - obfuscating or nasty, or simply attempts at incongruous distraction - any one of them enough to make you shake your head and sigh.

They include those who have been busily pooping all over the posted comment by Congressman Adam Schiff (D), Pasadena, on his Facebook page. The Congressman simply asked, "What did you think of the President's State of the Union?" and included a few positive assessments of his own.

The comments range from appropriate assessments to vitriol from Wingnutlandia.

There and elsewhere, it's quite easy to discern the trolls upending garbage cans into the street, not because they are naysayers, but because they are uniformly (a) devoid of any accuracy / "pesky facts;" (b) laden with idiotic tripe about Kenya or something equally distracting and stupid; (c) uniformly characterized by resentment and jealousy that the entire nation has not crashed and burned during this presidency, despite the most cynical efforts of irrational anti-Obamaites who obviously wouldn't mind seeing America fail.

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Fortunately, Congressman Schiff also got comments like this one, by Jon Ian:

"Lets see, Unemployment under 6%. Gas under $2 in many states, deficit cut in half, over 10 million insured in one year, most consecutive monthly job creation EVER, stock market highest ever... I know Republicans hate facts, but this speech was just a victory lap saying my policies worked and you were wrong about everything you forecasted..."

While I do not agree with Mr. Ian that the speech was "just a victory lap" - and we have far too many problems for any president to EVER waste an SOTU address on a "victory lap" - it is good to see Mr. Ian's inclusion of facts.

Now, let's jump on the other central issue:

How the rich continue to escape taxes even as they exploit all that this nation has to offer, including our human capital.

The President's call for free community college - something Californians once enjoyed - is very much aimed at opportunity for the offspring of the diminishing middle class and the growing indebted and impoverished class who work a multiplicity of part-time jobs with no benefits.


Restoring tax rates for the wealthy to something more akin to the rates they paid when the economy boomed under President Clinton? Mr. Obama, that is a welcome call.

Not simply because it satisfies our desire for fairness, but because it makes great economic sense for preserving America's competitiveness in a global economy. It's astonishing that conservatives do not understand that a society comprised of higher wage earners support a higher level of consumer spending and a healthier tax base.

Many of us hasten to add, even if that's only a good place to start with faltering economic models that lurch along, laden with contradictions.

Mark Smollin commented to Congressman Schiff:

"Forgive me congressman, but the economy has never worked properly and has been systematically manipulated to serve the elite. We now face the same issues of corporate abuse FDR fixed 100 years ago. How is that possible? We cannot repair an artificial economy based on exploitation."

Still, we should cite a comment that shows how the President's words inspired, but left plenty for us to do as activists for change.

Scott C. Smith commented to Congressman Schiff:

"I feel like we have a re-invigorated leader. I thought it was a great speech. He stated very clearly what values should guide our policies. The only parts I disagreed with were his emphasis on continuing drone strikes and pushing for TPP."

TPP. The Trans Pacific Partnership that the President has enthusiastically backed. Progressives must join the remaining labor unions and key elements the traditional Democratic base in opposing TPP.

Perhaps the President forsaw more opponents than just the intransigent Republicans when he asked that we work together where we can, and continue to do battle where we disagree. Certainly, US Senator Bernie Sanders (I), Vermont, will lead those opposing TPP, and that opposition will include many of the most progressive members in the Senate.

So, the sum total of the State of the Union?

  • Inspiring, with the substance to make the "feel-good" meaningful.
  • Inclusive of solid facts that verify improvement and accomplishment in the face of too much outrageously intransigent opposition during the past six years.
  • Inclusive, with emphasis, of solid initiatives to reverse climate change.
  • Inclusive of new initiatives that progressives can support - even though we will have work to do to reclaim more disillusioned young voters when congressional Republicans kill each and every progressive issue that inspired them Tuesday night.
  • Inclusive of a clear statement that the veto will be used to prevent repeal of gains made for ordinary Americans.
  • Inclusive of a few things the President supports that we will strongly oppose, starting with TPP.
  • Not inclusive of an actual major program to rebuild decaying infrastructure, something that's been needed since day one of this presidency, on par with FDR's WPA and CCC.
  • Not inclusive of a reinvigorated space program that could preserve America's industrial high tech aerospace and defense jobs by converting them to civilian space exploration - and turning classified innovations into things that freely spin-off into the civilian economy.
  • Inclusive of a shot across the bow to rich individuals obsessed with wanting more free rides - but not inclusive of a message to corporate America that there are limits to the power we will tolerate them concentrating in their hands.

Larry Wines