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Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address started like every other I can recall, with five minutes of applause for the President, but was immediately different from that point forward. Obama stopped the second round of clapping and standing, induced by his introduction by Vice President Joe Biden, after only 16 seconds. My count during the entire speech came in at 81 total applause breaks, with 17 Democrats-only, 1 coming exclusively from the Republican side, and 53 so-called bipartisan applauses. 27 of the 81 were accompanied by standing ovations in a situation that certainly saw the applause patterns thrown off by the side-by-side seating of some Democrats and Republicans.
The first part of the was, as a speech only, excellent, while the second half was weaker, eliciting a more muted response than I can recall in recent history even during the hugely popular human interest segments of the speech. Positive points included his alternative energy goals, a topic which I’ve come back to on The David Pakman Show time after time, especially after George W. Bush showed no interest in becoming the energy President. Obama including the idea of 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and the possibility of obtaining 80% of our electricity from clean energy by 2035, topped off by wanting to eliminate oil company subsidies, given high oil company profits, and such subsidies being antithetical to advancement in alternative energy development – my words, not Obama’s.
However, I can’t help but think that the President is living in a fantasy world on several fronts. When referring to the future of high speed rail in the US, with trains twice as fast as cars and sometimes even faster than airplanes for some trips, he ignores the opposition that such transportation would come up against from the automobile, airline, and oil lobbies. Sticking to the fantasy world statements, while Obama’s opening four minutes, almost exclusively about bipartisanship, were well written and precisely delivered, they were completely outside of reality. As Obama’s first two years showed, his efforts at bipartisanship didn’t add anything to the course of legislation, but came close to derailing some of the progress that was actually made.
Returning to positive components, Obama’s ideas of building infrastructure, which has not taken place in earnest for longer than I’ve lived in the US, are positive. Obama’s idea of military spending reduction is positive, but we shouldn’t be confused between spending $78 billion less on wars because we’re drawing down in Iraq and Afghanistan with an actual reduction of defense spending, including base closures, and a true move away from the war economy and military-industrial complex. War is still a line item for the US, just one of the country’s regular activities, even considering the proposed cuts.
The repeated phrase “winning the future” is one that was a lowlight. President Obama indicated that the future is not a gift, but rather an achievement. My impression was that the future is not a game, either, as the phrase implies.
President Obama’s only mention of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or gay rights was immediately followed by a request for wholesale acceptance of military recruiters at all college campuses, even though the repeal has not even been enacted yet. No real mention of poverty, and the completely unrealistic promise of vetoing all future bills that include earmarks did not score points, although John McCain standing and feverishly clapping after the impossible claim was visually funny.
Downright sickening was the lack of Republican applause after President Obama referred to the healthcare reform bill’s eliminating the preexisting conditions exclusions of for profit health insurance, but sadly I am not surprised, given the recent time wasting repeal that Republicans orchestrated in the House. Also, there was no clapping from the GOP after references to more affordable care as a result of the reform bill passed just months ago.
Overall this was a speech with some promising ideas, but downright shocking unbelievable claims, but that’s nothing new to SOTU addresses. SOTU addresses typically are followed by a small bump in approval rating, effectively a continuation of Obama’s rise in approval rating over the last few months. Also, a long track record of promises made with no actual followup is something of a standard. Let’s see what the next year delivers.
David Pakman is the host of the internationally syndicated talk radio and television program The David Pakman Show, airing on over 125 radio and TV stations, on FreeSpeechTV via DirecTV and DISH Network, and on www.davidpakman.com