Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Which State in the Union?

President Obama delivering state of the Union to Congress
President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union to 
Congress last night
Last night President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address to Congress and the nation.

During his speech, Obama hit all the right notes on the issues on what should be done to address the problems facing the country, according to many progressives such as your beloved author. He called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, address student debt, fund the crumbling infrastructure, give women equal pay, lower emissions to head off climate change, and address the justice system for both immigrants and those mistreated by the police.

Some Democrats won’t be happy at his continued push for free trade with Asia, one of the few areas where there might be some common ground with Republicans.
One other area the GOP might like is the charter school issue Obama once again supported, support which has grown to include many, such as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Six years into this administration, there isn’t much common ground to begin with. The previous Congress began with a deal at the 11th hour that nearly sent America off a “fiscal cliff”. While Obama had some initial momentum that translated into bipartisan support for immigration reform, that sputtered out and led to the first shutdown of Congress in twenty years. And then the healthcare marketplace website, the centerpiece of so much of controversy, didn’t work.

Given these facts, there was little preventing Obama from pushing a full progressive agenda last Congress. So he pleased his supporters in Congress, who duly cheered and stood to applaud the vast majority of his proposed initiatives, in stark contrast to those on the other side of the aisle.

Obama was also defiant, declaring when Republicans snidely cheered his statement that he had no more campaigns to run, “I know, because I won both of them.”

The based loved that line. Finally, the moderate, above-the-fray, statesman talked trash to the opposition, which has thwarted his every move for six long years. 

But will the gloves be off for long? Will progressives get to see their college professor president regularly attack Republicans on MSNBC?

It’s not likely.

It’s one thing to get a few shots in here and there, but Obama is not a partisan brawler. He got the presidency of the Harvard Law Review by making concessions to the conservative faction.

The one area where some legislation more important than renaming a post office and less critical than stopping the government from shutting down is tax reform. Obama started off the discussion in a fairly partisan way, declaring that he wished to tax the wealthy, with the wealthy in this plan happen to be defined specifically as multi-millionaires, not an accountant running his firm out his home or a mid-level executive in a conglomerate.

But he also wants to cut taxes for the middle class, that most special yet amorphous group in America.

With a large deficit and corporations doing everything under the sun not to pay taxes, tax reform certainly is needed.

But things aren’t as simple as that.

With a Republican majority in the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the new chairman of the Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over taxes, is highly unlikely to allow that to come to fruition.

And in the House, the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who has become well-known from his budgets shredding the federal budget, though he does remain open to compromise on that as well as the trade deal.
After citing heart-warming examples and his plans, Obama came back to the theme of compromise and unity at the end, referencing his own 2004 speech calling for bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship is a funny thing since both sides want the other to concede to their point of view. No one wants to concede big points or look like the loser. It’s especially difficult to do so now when the media focuses intensely on the situation, which doesn’t allow for deals to be done in private and face to be saved.

There has been little bipartisanship during the last six years. It does seem to have gotten worse. The question of why it has gotten worse is another story. So Republicans upset by the line have little to threaten Obama with that they haven’t threatened previously.

The point is that Obama has little to lose from going on the attack. With gas relatively cheap and unemployment reaching their 90s peak, Obama doesn’t look so bad.

Running a country in this day and age isn’t easy. But if things keep up this way, Obama will come out on top and his enemies will start talking about the uncontrollable nature of trends.