Barack Obama had to give the speech of his life last night, and he almost succeeded. It was an oratorical masterpiece, albeit a bit too long, and he pulled (almost) no punches in describing the State of the Union and the path forward.
The President made it clear that after eight years of incompetent and borderline-criminal management in the White House, he has done a lot in one year to turn things around. But he also reiterated the fact that there’s a long way to go. His emphasis on jobs was powerful and direct. He rightfully took credit for the stimulus package, although he should have mentioned that it was too small and should be extended.
It was good to see him chide the do-nothing opposition as well has his fellow Democrats on the gridlock in Washington.
What was especially gratifying was his commitment to remove combat troops from the ill-advised war in Iraq. While he did mention bringing the troops home, we will still be saddled by remaining “non-combat” troops there, and the frustrating war in Afghanistan.
The across-the-board freeze on non-military spending was something I would expect from a political hack, not a statesman. Security of the nation does not only come from guns and airplanes, but requires a healthy economy, and a healthy and educated work force. Let’s do the hard work of examining both the military and domestic budgets, and eliminating waste and fraud wherever it occurs.
There was not one mention of one of his key campaign pledges – the closing of the prison at Guantanamo. Gitmo serves as a rallying point for the radicals, and it will be difficult for moderate Muslims to gain influence while this stain on America’s values is in existence.
While the President again reiterated his support for gays and lesbians to serve their country honorably, this is an old treatise. Actions speak louder than words, all we have seen is words. It was especially disheartening to see the Joint Chiefs sit there stoically, and not respond to his call for action.
Afghanistan remains a burden, consuming our human and economic treasures. Like Viet Nam, we have no exit strategy, and it is yet to be seen if the Afganistanization of this conflict will have better results.
While the President’s call for competitive, world-class renewable energy is welcome, his inclusion of nuclear power ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Without a comprehensive plan for the safe storage of nuclear waste (a problem that we have had for over 50 years), increasing our reliance on nuclear energy while storing waste in our own backyards will become an increasingly difficult burden for our children and grandchildren. While we can (probably) make nuclear power plants safe, we must keep a moratorium on new construction until we have solved the waste problem.
Arguably, the ugliest part of the evening was the staged GOP response by the newly elected syncophantic governor of Virginia. His reiteration of the failed Bush policies was stale and silly.
Judge Scalia’s inappropriate Joe Wilson-like remarks simply show what kind of individual he is. This man never should have been confirmed to the Supreme Court (too bad the Democrats didn’t have the cojones to filibuster his confirmation).
Overall, I would grade the speech as a B+, a good grade but not good enough for the President of the United States. The President needs to realize that the Republic Party apparatchik is not there to do anything constructive – their openly stated goal is to bring down Barack Obama. He needs to rally the Democrats, and govern accordingly. If this means breaking the undemocratic filibuster and passing his agenda with 51 votes in the Senate, he should start that process immediately.