We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.
So said President Obama in his second State of the Union address, amid a seating-chart of good feelings but no era of good feelings. When Speaker Boehner wasn't looking bored or, when the president lauded him, weepy, he was no doubt figuring out beneath his tanned pate how to defeat every Obama initiative. Boehner thought bubble: "Post-partisan, my ass..." I am so far from our national zeitgeist that I'm sure this speech soared for most Americans, just as they loved him for the Tucson pep rally. So forgive me, but I found it uninspiring. Worse, it bordered on the delusional. This is his chance to talk to the largest audience of the year and it ended up sounding like a Who Moved My Cheese corporate seminar given before your entire department is outsourced to a "third-party vendor" in Bangalore. He even said, regarding globalization, "The rules have changed."
Ronald Reagan's best speeches can still move me, in spite of myself. Mr. Obama, who outraged the Clintons by saying he wanted to be a "transformational" president like Mr. Reagan, just doesn't connect, but as I write, I'm sure it's just me. But when Dutch spoke he was changing minds and persuading Americans to make a hostile Congress do his bidding (often to destructive long-term consequences, but effective nevertheless). Behind the scenes, Reagan was using executive orders to dramatically change the nation's course. The results behind the rhetoric are just as telling for Mr. Obama.
On the eve of the State of the Union, Carol Browner, the president's point person on climate change, announced her resignation. Nothing has been done over the past two years to address the greatest threat of our time. Nothing. The corporate capture of the Oval Office is complete with GE's Jeff Immelt replacing Paul Volcker as wise man, William Daley of JPMorgan Chase as chief of staff, and Gene Sperling, lately of Goldman Sachs, heading the economic council. The report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was leaked, and it properly detailed the risky business, regulatory laxness and swindles that led to the Great Recession. Republicans on the commission promptly disowned the report, issuing dissents (minorities getting liar loans caused the worst panic since the Great Depression, don't you know). The big finance playerz are back to business as usual, saved by the taxpayers. Nobody from Bear Stearns, Lehman, Washington Mutual, Goldman, etc. has done a perp walk. No high-speed rail line has opened or is even abuilding. We got a repeal of DADT, a big and overdue act of social justice and common sense. But the imperial adventures that underlie that need for manpower are as operative as during the Bush/Cheney years. We got "health care reform" but Americans are still in the clutches of the for-profit insurance industry. Mr. Obama transformational? Trust, but verify, as the Gipper would say.
Amid this, the dictators of the Middle East ("Our S.O.B.s," as the cold warriors would have it) are trembling from the overthrow of the regime in Tunisia. Egypt, and more likely Saudi Arabia, may survive this time. But not forever. And Jeffersonian democrats are not waiting to take control. Radical Islam gains every time we destroy a village or kill a child in Afghanistan or Iraq, or practice "rendition" anywhere. We keep Our S.O.B.s in power for stability, to appease an increasingly unsustainable Israeli policy, and, especially, for oil. George W. Bush talked more about peak oil than has President Obama. I give the latter points for at least pushing high-speed rail, but then he's on to "millions of electric cars." Electric cars are not an energy source. We're going to have to make fundamental changes, not just fix "roads and bridges." But no straight talk to the American people, such is the state of our magical thinking union.
Still, it works for New York Times columnist Timothy Egan, who wrote, "From the president, we got the first blueprint for how to build a second term. With a wind of higher approval ratings at his back, he will run as the Pragmatic Progressive. The pragmatist will compromise when he has to, as Obama did with tax cuts and as he promised to do Tuesday night with possible corrections in the health care law. The progressive will not repeal anything that keeps insurance companies from denying coverage to someone who is sick, and will move forward with new investments." Oh, okay.
I'm not sure we'll get high-speed rail, or better education, or good jobs. We'll get a second Clinton term without the drama and the infidelity. And didn't that work out dandy for the nation the first time. I suspect the next two years will be Obama playing defense just to keep what little he's gained (his Homeland Security Secretary can tell him how that works) from the reactionary policies headed our way. Rhetoric to the contrary, we will not do big things, as America once did (and how dare the man who defunded NASA invoke Project Apollo?). But maybe he'll win a second term. Even the right needs Obamanation, for the theater, for the outrage, for the SOCIALISM and a black man in the White House. For an America that's running out of time, I'm not so sure.