State of the Union 2011: A Review

January 27th, 2011 by Whitey Leave a reply »

President Obama’s State of the Union speech was a clear signal that he wants to work with House Republicans to get things done over the next two years. He focused on making America more competitive through education, infrastructure development, better government, and innovation. He spent more time on proposing a centrist agenda moving forward than he did on touting his accomplishments of the past year. Almost of of his proposals are centrist policy prescriptions–things that are difficult for anyone to disagree with. A CBS New Poll reported that 92% of people who watched the speech approved of Obama’s proposals, with only 8% who disapproved. The tone of his speech, and the agenda he is pursuing, are signs that he wants to keep going full steam to get things done, in spite of losing the House. But this is also a sign that he is gearing up for 2012.

See Rachel Maddow’s analysis on how Obama is steering to the center–the real center.

Here is a great breakdown of the speech by the Washington Post.

See also coverage by Democracy Now!

In contrast to Obama’s inspiring message about working together to improve our economy, Paul Ryan’s opposition response was a real downer.

His message focused on the threat of the deficit. This isn’t a surprise, since this is the guy who wrote the “Roadmap” that focuses on cutting programs that help people, but says nothing about corporate handouts or military spending.

He did attempt to bring some level of balance to his message when he acknowledged that Obama came into office with a wrecked economy: “There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.” But then he quickly blasts the President’s stimulus as being ineffective: “Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.”

He also blasts Obama’s ideas on investing in America (which includes eduction, infrastructure, and innovation). Even a basic understanding of U.S. economic history makes this criticism ridiculous. Does Congressman Ryan think the free market came up with the internet?

Here is Ryan’s vision of government: “We believe government’s role is both vital and limited – to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.” Yet, he wants to gut virtually every social program that takes care of “those who cannot provide for themselves.” He digs up old Reaganesque arguments about people abusing social programs: “If government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.” See how social programs are really spent. Congressman Ryan is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He is trying to say government can take “care of people who can’t provide for themselves,” bu t he also thinks that government social programs lull “able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependence.” The vast majority of people who receive government assistance are vulnerable people, mostly children, the elderly, the disabled, and mentally ill. Ryan also wants to blame the government for the recession: “Millions of families have fallen on hard times not because of our ideals of free enterprise – but because our leaders failed to live up to those ideals.” Either Ryan doesn’t get out much, or he is a damned liar in the back pocket of the powerful…And I am willing to accept that both are true.

(We won’t spend any time on Michelle Bachmann’s silly little fringe-wing response to the speech)

Back to the State of the Union.

We’ve gone through the speech and pulled out the highlights; the best ideas, quotes, and proposed actions.

Highlights:

  • Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.
  • We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
  • At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.
  • Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again. But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone.  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer…That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
  • America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.
  • No workers — no workers are more productive than ours.  No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.  We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.
  • We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.
  • Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.
  • Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet.  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.
  • We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
  • With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
  • We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.
  • So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.
  • If we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
  • The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.
  • We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause.)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
  • Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.
  • In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.
  • To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.
  • Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.
  • Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.
  • Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped…our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”
  • America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.
  • So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.
  • We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.
  • Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.
  • Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.
  • All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.
  • Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.
  • I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the [corporate tax] system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.
  • To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)
  • [Healthcare law:] What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.
  • We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.
  • I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
  • The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.
  • I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.
  • Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.
  • We should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.
  • We simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.
  • The best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.
  • We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.
  • In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.
  • In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
  • This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.
  • [War in Afghanistan:] This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
  • Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.
  • This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.
  • And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
  • Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.
  • And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.
  • We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

Read the full speech here.

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2 comments

  1. Rob says:

    I felt President Obama’s speech was heartening and uplifting.
    Paul Ryan’s response was plastic, fake, condescending, irresponsible and full of lies! He took that happy and secure feeling I had after Obama’s speech and turned it inside out. He made me so angry I wanted to punch kittens! It’s like someone took the worst bland hateful televangelist there is and programmed those words into a Japanese android. I have a feeling that sometime in the future there will be a horrible scandal involving Mr. Ryan.
    Honestly, his response destroyed any shred of credibility that the Republican party had left. They’re not about serving the people, they’re only about serving themselves and their big corporation masters. No more tax cuts or breaks for them. They’re posting record profits, at our expense, and not doing anything to help improve the economic or employment situations. The least they could do now is to contribute to reducing this nations deficit (that was generated by them, too!)
    Sorry for the ramble. Maybe I should just move to New Zealand or something…

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