Obama Appeals for Bipartisanship, as Republicans Sharpen the Knives

"Change has not come fast enough," President Obama acknowledged in
his State of the Union address--especially for Americans who are losing
their jobs and struggling through the long recession.

Then, in a speech aimed more at Congress than the American people,
he began a long plea to Republicans to work in a more bipartisan
fashion to pass the very legislation they are determined to torpedo.

He didn't even mention health care reform until nearly half way
through his speech--and then it was only a tepid cry to keep on
plugging and, to Republicans, to come to him with new ideas--as if this
legislation hadn't been the centerpiece priority of his Administration,
and made it all the way through both houses of Congress. But before he
even got to that, Obama endorsed a program of tax cuts and a general
spending freeze that brought Republicans to their feet.

"How long should we wait? How long should American put its future on
hold?" he asked. American citizens might well ask the same question of

After acknowledging popular disgust with Wall Street, Obama defended
the bank bailout. "We all hated the bank bailout. I hated it, you hated
it." But without it, "the unemployment rate might be double what it is
today." On the other hand, the big banks could have been broken up and
CEOs prosecuted as criminals instead of given a blank check, but never
mind. Obama did endorse a fee on the biggest banks to pay back the
taxpayers--a common sense move he had resisted until recently.

Then he segued into tax cuts, which got a huge cheer from the
Democrats. "We haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single
person," he trumpeted.

He touted the Recovery Act for creating jobs, and, predictably the Republicans sat on their hands.

But after that brief, awkward moment, it was the Republicans' night.
Speaking of jobs, "The true engine of jobs will always be America's
businesses," Obama declared, to a rousing ovation. "The first order of
business," for the new year, he declared, will be a jobs bill.

Um, what happened to health care?

Sure, John Boehner shook his head and looked as if he were making
rude remarks to his neighbor when Obama proposed using a piddling tax
on Wall Street to help give small businesses access to credit the big
banks are denying them so they can stay alive. (So much for Republican
champions of small business.) But the talk of eliminating capital gains
taxes on small businesses, and the other bones he threw to the
rightwing ideologues, including a top priority on clean energy of
"safe, clean nuclear power plants" and "opening new areas for offshore
gas development" won smiles from the likes of Mitch McConnell.

Obama took a few swipes at "those who doubt the overwhelming
evidence on climate change," and he bashed Wall Street and lobbyists
(though his claim to take a tough stand against lobbyists in his
Administration drew audible boos). He rightly criticized the recent
Supreme Court decision that will "open the floodgates" of corporate
money to influence elections. But then he went flaccid. Instead of
proposing actual legislation, he said, "I'd urge Democrats and
Republicans to pass a bill that will help correct some of these
problems." Great. You guys think of something, will you? Let me know
when you've got it figured out.

Overall, he was reading from the New Democrat script: conceding the
ideological high ground to Republicans on cutting taxes and limiting
the size of government.

Worst of all was his pledge to freeze all government spending apart
from Defense, Medicare, and Social Security, starting in 2011.

This is the very mistake FDR made, prolonging the Great Depression.
This policy of beginning to turn around the economy with government
stimulus, and then reversing course and becoming a deficit hawk, bodes
ill for those down-on their-luck Americans Obama referenced at the
start of his speech.

Obama claimed credit for the Democrats for the Clinton-era surplus,
and rightly blamed Republicans for running up the deficit. But then he
joined the right in making government debt public enemy number one. He
got a firm second on that view by Governor Bob McDonnel of Virginia in
the Republican response--boilerplate bashing of Democrats in Congress
for deficit spending. That just goes to show that conceding the high
ground only means you are backed into a corner.

Backpedaling on health care, Obama sounded like he had already lost
the fight--even as some Democrats in Congress are arguing for using
their supermajority (before Kennedy's seat turns Republican) to push
through the existing health care plan. "I take my share of the blame,"
Obama said, for the putative lack of public confidence in health care
reform, and then he urged Republicans to "take another look" at his
approach, or maybe come to him with ideas of their own.


This is where Mitch McConnell got to his feet to applaud. You know we are in trouble now.

He went on to talk more about reigning in debt with a crippling pay-as-you-go rule.

There were a few throw-aways, like a web site that will publish all
earmark requests in Congress that comes right out of the McCain

Rather unfairly, I'm sure it seemed to his Democratic colleagues, he
scolded them, saying, "People expect us to solve problems, not run for
the hills." Um, like abandoning health care until page 11 you mean?

To the Republicans he said: "Just saying no to everything is good
short-term politics, but it's not leadership." Not sure how much that
one stung McConnell and Boehner, actually.

Sometime right before midnight we got a couple of bright spots for
gay people and women: the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and an end to
sexual orientation discrimination in the military, and enforcement of
equal pay laws. Hurray, said the few hardcore members of the base who
were still watching.

Oh yeah, and he mentioned nuclear nonproliferation--another bright spot.

The conclusion: people are losing faith because of bankers and
lobbyists and blowhard pundits, was nicely done. As was his
acknowledgement that people are discouraged about the whole idea of
change and even "whether I can deliver". But the theme of blaming
Washington and both parties and making a plea to people to get together
and play nicely just seems, given the political realities, like giving

Obama should take his own advice about putting politics aside and
get something done--at least his own declared goal of passing health
care. Otherwise he risks becoming the coolest, most fair-minded,
thoughtful, and least effectual President the Democrats have ever had.

At long last he got to the line: "We still need health insurance reform."

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