Thursday, January 28, 2010
I took in the State of the Union speech with the good folks of Organizing for America at Everett and Jones in downtown Oakland. The barbecue joint and music club is a grand community institution where the Obama campaign worked out of the back room for months. I can't imagine a more pleasant setting in which to watch an event I wasn't much looking forward to.
A lot of folks simply seemed to be having a good time, perhaps remembering endless hours of hard work during 2008.
Once Obama got going, he had this audience's attention.
I have plenty of criticisms. A spending freeze that omits the military part of the budget from scrutiny is nonsense. Obama's rationale for the "entitlement commission" he's determined to set up by executive order repeated a common falsehood: it is simply false that Social Security spending is out of control; SS costs as a percentage of GDP are pretty much flat. Medicare and Medicaid costs are skyrocketing -- mostly because U.S. providers insist on being paid twice what doctors and hospitals get in the rest of the world while insurers skim off their profits. You can't blame that on sick people. And I wish he didn't feel he had to talk tough about the remote "threat" of an Iranian bomb, a notion refuted by numerous CIA threat assessments.
And there was a lot to like too. The education section, helping students be less burdened by loans and aiding community colleges, pointed in great directions. It was good to hear him reiterate that he'll continue to wind down the Iraq occupation and begin some withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011. His advisers have been nowhere near so clear on that. What's not to like about making lobbyists disclose all their contacts with Congress; that will cause fits all over K Street -- it's burdensome and will drag a lot of dirt into the light should it ever happen. He even managed to sound hopeful about health care reform, more or less.
The best of the speech was its informal authority. He talked to these Congresscritters (and the Supreme Court) like the fractious first graders they act like. And they took it. They have to -- he's not personally cowed by them; he's willing to talk with them; it's clear they can't figure out how to handle him. He gave nice props to the House for passing the hard stuff it has tackled this year -- and by implication told the Senators they sucked, all with a lovely smile.
It was a pleasure to watch Joe Biden enjoying himself. It was a pleasure to see Nancy Pelosi simply enjoying his takedown of her silly brood -- I am often very critical of her as my Congresswoman, but she sure seems to be good at the role of Speaker that she so much sought.
I didn't expect to come away from the SOTU anything but mad and discouraged, but I was wrong. Just maybe, with enough popular pressure, Obama's presidency doesn't have to be a complete flop. All those happy people at Everett and Jones deserve more than a feckless failure.