Sunday, January 30, 2011

State of the Union Reaction

I finally settled down to read the President's recent State of the Union message. I missed the speech when it was on the television, but even so, for decades I have been in the habit of reading transcripts of major presidential speeches and press conferences afterward even if I see them delivered in realtime. Watching live is great for emotional responses, but reading is better for understanding the content.

My overall reaction is one of pride in President Barack Obama. Even during the difficult political fights of the past two years, my faith has remained unshaken that his fundamental goal in office is to govern effectively, focusing on policy rather than political scorekeeping.

Yes, he must engage the politics of persuasion, and sometimes his administration has done a poor job. But even when he has not managed to earn plaudits from pundits for his command of the 24-hour political-spin cycle, he has notched more major legislative accomplishments than many Presidents who have been in office a full term.

The Obama Administration's foreign policy team, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ably supported by Vice President Joe Biden, is first-rate, having effected a sea-change in US posture abroad. The country now leans toward other nations with engagement and cooperation where only a few years ago a large proportion of the world's citizens thought the US wished to stand above all, unilaterally calling the shots.

I believe that President Obama speaks genuinely when he says America is a nation founded on an idea and populated by people who do big things -- that he doesn't simply recite feel-good boilerplate imagery. More than any President during my lifetime, President Obama continues to inspire me. And I think the prospects are good that the modest but reform-minded agenda he outlined in the State of the Union speech will move foward even as he must work with a fire-breathing, just-say-no Congress.

I also read the two -- count 'em: two -- rebuttals offered by the party out of executive power at the moment. Rebuttals to the State of the Union are entirely inconsequential, and like Vice Presidential debates, they're only remembered for the gaffes and guffaws. But I will note two points from Representative Michelle Bachman's looney statement. That's in addition to underscoring that it was definitely a lunatic move to point a camera at a Tea Party spokesperson, as if the Republican Party couldn't scrape together enough wits to deliver a coherent message in the official rebuttal.

First, America is not "a nation that currently enjoys the world's finest healthcare." I don't quarrel that the country has the best healthcare on offer in terms of advanced treatments. But I think relatively few average citizens have access to it, and therefore there is very little to enjoy.

Second, what jingoistic arrogance (and tortured syntax) when she said, "We believe in ... exceptionalism in America. And I believe that America is the indispensable nation of the world. Just the creation of this nation itself was a miracle."

I've seen a lot of the world in recent years, and I haven't come across many places where America is indespensible. There are many, I'm proud to report, where my country is influential and highly regarded. But indespensible is grossly overstating things. And, a miracle, huh? Sigh.

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