On the day of President Obama’s first State of the Union Address, I thought it would be a worthy (and self-indulgent) exercise to give my own SOTU. I also thought it would be a fitting end to a self-imposed hiatus. For you the reader that means a lengthy post talking about topics varied and diffuse. Enjoy. Or don’t.
My fellow Americans (and our small but loyal international readership) the state of the Union is shaky at best. We remain embroiled in two wars. Guantanamo Bay is still open and synonymous with punishment and shame. Our economy, no longer perched at the precipice of the cliff, remains inches from the edge of a calamitous fall. We don’t have global understanding on climate change. China has reasserted its most authoritative prerogatives. Radical Islam remains a virulent opponent of our version of liberty. These are the exogenous problems we face as a nation, and yet I believe they are not the worst problems we face. They are the by-products, the outcomes, of our own governmental dysfunction.
We face an extreme right movement that foments, indeed breeds on, fear, misinformation, and disdain for their fellow Americans. We face a loyal opposition held hostage by this movement that ignores reason, rejects or contorts facts, rendering impotent those of the opposition that would be guided by their better angels. We face a majority, in turn, held hostage by the “moderates” of their ilk, leaderless, lacking a uniformity of voice in change. Faced with this political environment with an opposition kowtowed by its own fringes and a majority crippled by its own ineffectual leadership, the work of the government has ground to a halt. The air of debate is noxious with claims, counterclaims, elusive facts, and putrid lies. What are we as a nation to do?
To the Democrats, and specifically President Obama, I implore you to lead. Two million people didn’t descend onto America’s front lawn last January to see such dithering one year on. They connected with a message of change and the majority of Americans are still hungry for change. The problem is that they haven’t seen any change. My critics will say that I’m wrong. That America has changed and that people want the change to stop, but that is nonsense. In an attempt to foster bi-partisanship the president and the leadership of his party has conceded time and again.
If you’re a Democrat, stop apologizing for that fact. If you believe 46 million of your countrymen and women that don’t have health insurance deserve it then say so and say it proudly. The Democrats have taken up a defensive posture demonstrated by the sound bite ready, but policy ridiculous spending freeze. I’ve been told that’s what you have to do to remain in power, but I challenge that notion. Leadership is how you remain in power. Sharing your ideas and your evidence with the electorate is how you remain in power. This leadership has to begin at the top. Talk straight with the American people. Advocate for tough policy choices and defend those choices as a matter of necessity and common sense.
To the Republicans, I implore you to come out from under the heel of the most venomous of those that lie along your fringes. The party of Lincoln has become the party of Limbaugh and Beck. You have a responsibility to this epublic to provide an opposition, but you also have an obligation to confront the misinformation that limits your own policy options. That confrontation shouldn’t take the form of a Friday evening press release. It should be a full-throated refutation of blatant lies, whether voiced by your opponents or members of your own camp.
If you are a Republican, come to the table in good faith and with new ideas. Your party has perfected obstructionism to the detriment of discourse. The American people deserve a proper discourse based in facts, over ideas, without deliberate misinformation. If elected members of your party do not agree with that statement then perhaps you should consider if they should be a part of your party.
That’s my wish list for the two primary political parties in America. That’s what I want to see from them, because neither party is doing much to govern America. What do I want to see from our elected officials on a national level this year (beyond, you know, action)? Here’s my policy wishlist:
· Pass healthcare reform, not so Dems can get a victory, not so Repos can suffer a defeat, but because 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance and the Senate version of the bill, rooted in private insurance models, would help a great majority of those Americans to be insured.
· For the next two years let the budget deficit be damned. We need to spend money in this country to restart the economy and while we might have avoided the worst, we still face over 10% unemployment. Hand wringing over the debt that is held and will need to be held by China is misguided. Yes, they hold a lot of our debt, but that is largely inconsequential because 1) the yuan is still pegged to the dollar and 2) they need us to buy their stuff to keep growing.
· Regulate the financial industry. I don’t know what this looks like but when banks becomes “too big to fail” we have to consider if that means they’re too big to exist in their present form. Government intervention is required for regulation because government intervention was required to bail out the unregulated.
· Continue the drawdown in Iraq while taking one last shot in Afghanistan. We have liberated Iraq and have done much to help them rebuild their nation. Most international affairs analysts would agree that a measure of victory has been achieved, so let’s get the hell out. Perhaps I’ll sound a bit jingoist, but leave Iraq to the Iraqis. In Afghanistan, this current surge should be our last shot at nation-building in the country. If we fail to gain traction with this attempt then our mission focus should be building strategic tribal alliances to more effectively facilitate the prosecution of small scale incursions against groups actively seeking to harm the United States.
· Continue reaching out to the less-hardened of our enemies. President Obama has done much to spread a message of respect for the rest of the world, including some of our traditional adversaries. He has been criticized because this has not paid immediate dividends. Diplomacy doesn’t work like combat. We took Baghdad inside of a week, but it has taken years to restore our image in the rest of the world to be considered a good faith partner. The pay offs will come with time. I’ll use a metaphor as we enter Super Bowl hype time. If you run your halfback off tackle and he’s stopped at the line, you don’t burn the play and never use it again. You come back to that play time and again because you know it will work with time.
These are five real goals our government can accomplish within the next year. They are goals that could find broad support in spirit and vigorous, respectful debate in application. All of us, all Americans, all global citizens need to approach the myriad of external problems we face without the internal rancor that has defined us. We have a responsibility to be reasoned in our opinions, respectful in our tone, and honest in our facts. In the face of those that would not abide be these tenets, we must be diligent and clear of mission to disregard those that would determine only to derail advancement. This is our obligation to the republic and to the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our Union is shaky at best, but the hands to secure its foundations are our own. The ideas that move us forward lie in our minds. The regard and respect for dissent is in our hearts. We can rally around what binds us or fracture at what divides us. Perhaps now, more than at any point in our history (save the Revolution and the Civil War) does our Union appear so strained and tenuous. Yet, our nation has witnessed a great many rebirths before. The moment is ours to share in triumph or lament in division and defeat.
So there you that it. My SOTU for what it’s worth. I welcome comments (Colin), and I’ll get out ahead of the first one. Every one of my policy recommendations is basically already a recommendation of the Democratic party. I am a Democrat, but I also think those prescriptions are right. If you disagree, tell me why.