Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The State of the Union 2015, a before and after experiment

The State of the Union address is on my mind today. It is apparently a very "State of..." time of year because Michigan governor Rick Snyder is delivering his State of the State earlier in the evening and I finished off my own little "State of the Village" article for Wolverine Lake's January newsletter just last night.

I thought I'd try a little experiment this year and post a few paragraphs before and after, just to see if anything I hear tonight changes my mind about ... well, about anything I think about our the current state of national politics.

Musings Before: Usually I look forward to the State of the Union address, but I just can't muster any enthusiasm this time around. I'm not sure why, but I suspect that it's because I foresee two years of brutal partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington. And so I suspect that what I'm going to see this evening is a set of moderate and achievable ideas -- well vetted beforehand with polling research and focus groups -- that will disappear into two years of vetoes, never to be seen again.

The Republicans are feeling bold now that they have gained control of both houses of Congress. If Obama's domestic policy announcements consisted in full of naming July "Apple Pie Month" I fear that the Republican response would accuse Obama of a government takeover of the baking sector.

We shall see. It's easy to be cynical about national politics in any age. But I don't recall an era in my lifetime that has so fully rewarded cynicism as the proper tool for forecasting. I hate going into this thing expecting to see more evidence that our political system is broken. And yet ... that's all I expect.

Interim Musing: Just watched Snyder's State of the State for Michigan. I thought it was pretty good as these things go. It'll be interesting to see if his "River of Opportunity" attempt to restructure government becomes a genuine effort to improve how government helps people or if it just becomes an excuse for cutting support for the folks who most need it. The rhetoric doesn't really matter, but the reality does.

Musings After: Well, that was considerably better than I expected. I thought the first part was especially strong, where Obama laid out what he was going to try to do and what he would oppose. The latter parts -- when he tried to appeal to idealism and call for bipartisanship, common ground, etc., kinda felt like a rote exercise in things all of us know aren't going to happen, but that poll well.

I don't recall another State of the Union with so few applause lines inserted to give the opposition party a chance to stand and applaud. On the other hand, since the Republicans weren't even willing to applause his long list of current good economic news, what would have been the point?

If nothing else, it set the tone for the next two years. It felt to me as if Obama's now officially given up on trying to appease the Republicans in Congress. Obama's going to send some very popular things to Congress where they will be dead on arrival. The Republicans are going to send a lot of unpalatable bills to the White House, where they will be promptly vetoed.

As a speech it felt as if Obama committed to being engaged for the next two years, something I felt has been badly lacking since his 2012 reelection. Perhaps it's like a racehorse coming around the final corner and spotting the finish line. He has less than two years left to make a final impact, and I'm sure his legacy is on his mind.

Mind you, none of it makes me think anything about Washington, D.C., will be any less toxic over the next two years. But at least we got one decent speech out of it, so these two years have already exceeded my expectations.

Final musing: The content was pretty bland, but that Republican Senator from Iowa who delivered the rebuttal has a big smile and a lot of teeth. Jimmy Carter would be proud.

P.S. Oooh, look. Here's the first post-speech interview with a Republican Congresswoman and I've already heard "shameful", "class warfare", "punishing the job creators", and "not based in the real world". The era of State of the Union bipartisanship officially ended 34 seconds after the end of the opposition rebuttal.

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