Last night's SOTU address was a lot like an episode of Seinfeld -- great writing, great acting, pitch-perfect delivery, frequent grunts of laughter and even frequenter rounds of applause from an allegedly living audience. But in the end, it was a classic show about nothing.
At least the senile Uncle Leo character showed up only once to bitch about the deficit and generational theft. At least the pathologically cheap George Costanzo clone grudgingly agreed to raise the crappy pay of federal contract employees enough so they won't faint from starvation on the job. (although, as with most bait and switch come-ons, restrictions do apply. If you are currently a McWorker in the Pentagon, you will continue earning the same $7 or $8 an hour you've been making for the past decade. Now that your cheap-ass boss has to fork over an extravagant $10.10 an hour to the newbie, you're almost guaranteed to never get a raise. You will, however, be expected to train the new kid getting paid more than you.)
But not to worry. President Obama will make it easier for you to save for your retirement (or death, whichever comes first) through a nifty plan he calls MyRA. I suspect that it sounds like a TV ad for a rheumatoid arthritis drug for a reason. It may come with a lot of side-effects, including serious infections, nervous system reactions, even death. If you begin to experience these symptoms, discontinue saving from your pitiful salary immediately and eat something, already! And then keep clamoring for the expansion of Social Security via scrapping the cap on contributions and raising the amount of monthly checks to help boost the economy.
Of course, Barry's myRA is meant to help only the mythical "middle class" save for retirement. And Matt Yglesias suspects it's not a savings plan so much as it's a bond-selling gimmick. And cynic that I am, I can't help suspecting it's a backdoor way to eventually privatize Social Security. You know who else has been pushing for these private retirement savings accounts since forever? The tax-phobic billionaire plutocrats of Fix the Debt and the Business Roundtable, that's who! Since Inequality has all but pushed the New Deal-destroying Grand Betrayal off the table, myRa could be the consolation prize for the CEO crowd of political donors and bribers.
As soon as Obama mendaciously announced last night that fast track approval of the TransPacific Partnership* would help American entrepreneurs and small business owners create jobs for "folks," I tuned out. Along with Noam Chomsky's advice to run for the hills whenever you hear a politician utter the word folks, I would also urge you to be wary of his bucket full of dreaded "common-sense approaches". This weasel phrase paradoxically always seems to bode ill for the commons -- as in, common-sense deficit reduction, common-sense food stamp cuts, common-sense job-creating deregulation of fracking, and last night's promise of "common sense solutions to drone policy" -- or if you insist on being blunt about it, the therapeutic assassinations of Muslim people by sane surgical hellfire missiles.
Barack Obama is simply using the old tried and true formula beloved of slick politicians since time immemorial. Check the polls, and determine what people are mad as hell about these days. (Hint: it's the failure of their government to protect them from the machinations of the pathologically wealthy.) Feel their pain for a minute. And then begin to oh-so-stealthily change the subject. Or, as the neoliberal elites say when they want to co-opt populist sentiment: "Shape their thinking" by changing the "terms of the debate."
And thus does the scourge and crime of unfettered capitalism and extreme wealth disparity become Obama's phony "ladders of opportunity" for increasingly desperate people to gain entry into Middle Class Nirvana. Save for retirement with your pennies. Play the trickle-down Promise Zone/charter school lottery. Work hard and play by their rules. Be afraid of terror. And above all, support the troops. Feel guilty about feeling your own sadness as the millionaires of Congress give a standing ovation to a maimed veteran who's suffered through a sadistic and unconscionable ten deployments to keep you safe and free and unquestioning. And don't forget pragmatic.
And if you do take it into your head to resist, a la Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and other government whistleblowers, along with thousands of Occupy protesters and anti-war activists, watch your dulcet-toned President turn into the Soup Nazi in a New York Minute. If you dare ask for bread to go along with your watered-down soup, you'll not only be refused. They'll raise the price even more before summarily kicking you to the curb.
*Update: This is a hopeful sign, but we mustn't let our guard down. These promises have a way of being broken in back room wheeling and dealing.