Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pablum Preview

From SuperPacs to Super Storms to Super-Soakers, we can now move on to Super-Speech: a/k/a the annual State of the Union (SOTU) harangue next week. You might call it the Superbowl of Presidential Addresses, delivered as it is to a joint session of Congress, some Supreme Court members, the First Lady in her royal box with a carefully selected entourage of human props, every last one of them dressed to kill, jockeying for prime TV camera position.

Although Barack Obama is designated the star quarterback for this particular political game, this year's edition will feature not one, but three, defensive stars from the Red Team. And let's not forget the star punditry analyzing every applause line, facial expression, and couture choice in the pre and post shows.

There is, of course, no halftime show. The SOTU is the halftime show. 

This year's theme had been rumored to  be Inequality. And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who announced he has also been hired by CNN to provide some play-by-play commentary, is waving the pompoms at the pep rally as he writes in his latest column that "everybody should be cheering him (Obama) on":
 They won’t, of course. Instead, he will face two kinds of sniping. The usual suspects on the right will, as always when questions of income distribution comes up, shriek “Class warfare!” But there will also be seemingly more sober voices arguing that he has picked the wrong target, that jobs, not inequality, should be at the top of his agenda.
Wow. He totally neglected the rest of the "folks", who will be either doing something else, or booing, or just laughing hysterically.

The audience, Krugman writes, is more likely to "connect" with the president on the issue of inequality, and therefore Obama should stick with the populism schtick and try not to mention "deficit reduction" to balance himself out. And so, that most liberal, erudite, and well-respected New York Times columnist as much as admits that the whole purpose of Obama's rhetoric will be mere political point-scoring and Democratic Party-boosting. Sardonicky contributor Pearl Volkov called him out on it in her "TimesPick" comment:
 "But if we mainly hear about inequality and social justice, that’s O.K."
Dr. Krugman: even if the president mentions inequality and social justice in his speech it means nothing. His words arranged by a speechwriter remain the same since Day One and comparing all his speeches throughout the years will show this.
How long will the American people believe anything he says and how long will you recognize that any delicate comments you make hinting about what you think he should do in the years ahead fall on deaf ears.
I am surprised that you do not catch on to the reasons for his odd behavior and inability to apparently understand what the problems are.
He is a product of the system, and a great article in the paper today by a former worker on Wall Street titled "For the Love of Money" and what it represents describes his agenda. Only in that story the author recognizes where he is heading and changes course.
No, the presidency represents too much power, prestige and great future prospects to allow its use for the good of the people by an unscrupulous occupant. He made his choices long ago.

And here was my two cents:
If the president simultaneously talks about inequality and pushes for fast-track Congressional authority to shove the secretive, job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership down our throats, he'll effectively be cancelling himself out.
But still, I'll be willing to give him a cheer if he uses his executive authority to raise the pay of low-wage federal contractors, some of whom walked off their Pentagon jobs in protest this week. Obama has the power to instantly lift millions of these hard-working people out of the slough of poverty.
Politely asking Congress to raise the minimum non-living wage to a paltry $10 doesn't cut it. His five years of getting away with speeches substituting for actions have run their course. His approval rating is at the same low level as Bush's at the same point in his second term. A new poll (AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs) reveals that fully 70% of us now lack confidence in government in general.
Wall Street continues to get backdoor bailouts and prosecution deferrals for its crimes against humanity, while food assistance for nearly 50 million people has been slashed. The millionaires of Congress don't have the money help the one in four children living in poverty, but billions to feed the paranoia of the war machine and the security state. We, the citizens, have been declared the enemy. We no longer live in a functioning democracy.
It really is asking a bit much that we applaud even one more empty hour of jingoism and platitudes.
In anticipation of Bullshit 2014 edition, I thought it would be fun (okay, so fun is a bit extreme) to go down Memory Lane and revisit some of the game highlights of SOTUs past.

The theme of his debut effort in 2010, after one year in office, was "Let's Get Serious." It was hard to select the memorable quotes that should have given his hordes of adoring fans their first clue that Obama is not so much a liberal as he is a free-market neoliberal. But here goes. I have inserted some helpful explanatory links into some of them. The others simply speak for themselves.
And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.  Not a single dime.  (Applause.)
Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses.  (Applause.)  But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.
While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, and provide a tax incentive for all large businesses and all small businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.  (Applause.)
  Look, I am not interested in punishing banks.  I'm interested in protecting our economy.  A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.
It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.  (Applause.)  
Third, we need to export more of our goods.  (Applause.)  Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.  (Applause.) ....  If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.  (Applause.)
 Now, this year, we've broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools.  And the idea here is simple:  Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform -- reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.  In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.  (Applause.)
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office -– the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress –- our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.  (Applause.) 
But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government should do the same.  (Applause.)  So tonight, I'm proposing specific steps to pay for the trillion dollars that it took to rescue the economy last year.
Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. 
That's why I've called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad.  (Applause.)  This can't be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem.  The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. 
Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission.  So I'll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.  (Applause.)  And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.  Applause.) 
(Karen here: Mind you, Obama was pushing for Austerity when he still had a Super Majority in the Senate and a Majority in the House. Also, mind you that the clappers and guffawers in the room were likely laughing all the way to the bank. Half of Congress are now millionaires. So give two cheers and one cheer more to the well-dressed captain of The Pinafore, yo!)
 With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections.  (Applause.)  I don't think American elections should be bankrolled  by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  (Applause.)  They should be decided by the American people.  And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.
 To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.  (Applause.)  
(Um. They ran for the hills (Beverly) and the valleys (Silicon.) And they danced in the street. (Wall.)

And now on to the 2011 speech, a/k/a "Win the Future," which could very easily have been delivered by Reagan, Bush, or Cheney. It is breathtaking in its bellicosity and cruelty. It was a full-on assault on the American people coated with a "Happy Days Are Here Again" veneer.  Obama celebrated the Republican "shellacking" of the midterms and pretended that normal, struggling Americans were all for bipartisan grand bargains to make their lives even more miserable. The austerity contributing to the worst income inequality would go on under his watch. Read the speech and you have proof from the words of the One himself that the current state of affairs he now pretends so smarmily to want to reverse, is a Lie for the Age. Highlights (or more accurately, low points):
We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.
(no mention of stagnating wages.)
  We did that in December.  Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year.  And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.
(Austerity as an economy-booster was soon exposed as a massive fraud, of course.)
Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.
 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.
But now that the worst of the recession is over*, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in**.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

(** Obama here sets the stage for the slew of phony fiscal crises and debt limit negotiations and government shutdowns.)
 So tonight, 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.
This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  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.  (Applause.).....
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

He then went on from hating current seniors and the currently disabled to trumpeting American exceptionalism and superiority at a truly Cheneyesque level. Here's a snippet I found simultaneously chilling and hilarious in light of the recent revelations of his administration's secrecy fetish, his war on whistleblowers, his legalization of indefinite detention and assassinations, his suppression of journalism and human rights abuses:
We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.
 Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written. 
  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.  (Applause.) 
 We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.
No matter who or where you are, The Shadow Knows.

Had enough yet? Me too. However, if you're even more of a glutton for punishment than I am, you can find the more recent SOTUs here and here. But speaking just for myself, if I needed any more examples of doubletalk and Newspeak, I do have the complete editions of Kafka and Orwell at my fingertips, right here in my library. They are among the many antidotes available to help keep us sane, giving us the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the voices to protest.

Or if you prefer your flavor bland, there's always Paul Krugman and Obama's Google hangouts.

Update: After posting this, I checked my in-box, and there was a note addressed to "Hey" from White House factotum Dan Pfeiffer giving me, Hey, a preview of the speech. And yeah, they're openly referring to it as a sporting event. And no, inequality is not being mentioned. It's been neoliberalized into 0pportunity.
Hey --
Every year it's the same old same old: In the days leading up to the State of the Union, the phone rings off the hook with inside-the-Beltway hacks everyone trying to figure out what will be in the President's address.
We're now just four days out -- and the President wanted Hey you to get the first preview of what this speech is all about. As always, he'll be working on it right up until game time, but three words sum up the President's message on Tuesday night: opportunity, action, and optimism. (0A0, pronounced Owwwww!)
The core idea is as corporatist American as they come: If you are a compliant little citizen who works for low wages till you drop work hard and play by the rules, you might should have the opportunity to survive succeed. Your ability to breathe get ahead should be based on your can-do, pull-yourself-up- by-your-bootstraps Horatio Alger spirit hard work and lust for wealth ambition and who you want to be, not just the raw circumstance of who you are when you're born to loser single moms.
On Tuesday night, the President will lay out a set of real, wet concrete, market-based practical proposals to grow the financial services industry economy, strengthen the upper middle class, and hypnotize empower all who hope against hope to join it.
In this year of action, the President will seek out as many market-based opportunities as possible to work with the Ayn Rand cult in Congress in a bipartisan way. But when American jobs and CEO livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress.
President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to fund-raise for Democrats take executive action and enlist every American -- oligarchs and their trusty serfs business owners and workers, mayors named Rahm Emanuel and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country -- in posing as human backdrops for his speeches the project to immortalize the myth of trickle-down economics to restore equality opportunity for all.
It will be a rah-rah an optimistic speech. Thanks to his ability to fool you into thinking he's sympathetic the grit and determination of citizens like Hey you, America has a hard-earned right to that optimism but not a hard-earned right to representation by politicians.  Five years after the President is presiding over inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,  our businesses have created more than eight million new low-paying jobs in the past 46 months, and they're primed to create more misery for you and wealth for themselves.
With minimal some action on the PTB's all our parts, we can pretend to help more jobseekers find work, and more working Americans find the economic security they deserve. That's why, in the week following the speech, President Obama will continue campaign-style bullshitting travel to communities across the country -- including Prince George’s County Maryland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Nashville, before returning to the White House to head-fake on outline new efforts to placate help the long-term unemployed as a wedge issue to elect more Democrats.


annenigma said...

Political Science professor Adolph Reed had Obama figured out way back in early 1996, long before anyone had heard of Obama. Here is his take in “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice, January 16, 1996:

"In Chicago… we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance."

Zee said...

@annenigma and @All--

There are apparently a couple of additional, pithy sentences that can be added to that quote which I think are worth reflecting on:

"I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better."

annenigma said...

Here's something I really wanted to get into the NYT but they closed comments before I got it written. Since we're on the topic of Obama...

"It strikes me as strange that a President who keeps his own college records SECRET from the public should so strongly support these invasive and illegal programs, especially considering his legal interest in the Constitution.

With 16 different agencies in the Intelligence Community and hundreds of thousands of federal and contract employees, it seems likely that someone could hack in and find out what Obama's big secret is and use it as leverage. If he needs to keep secret something as seemingly benign as his college records, what other skeletons does he have in his closet?

No President should be allowed to keep secrets - it jeopardizes National Security. Think blackmail - by those with the ability to break into others' secrets.

We citizens need to be sure that who we vote for is REAL. We should never have to experience the deep disappointment and betrayal of someone turning into a different person after being elected. Obama has certainly turned into a real secretive, mystery man in more ways than one. 'Most transparent administration ever' he falsely claimed. Everything about him seems false.

Please, Mr. President. Tell us what you are hiding from your past. "Trust us" - "We won't misuse your private information". And besides, "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear."

Will said...

Great comment, Pearl. As for why a brainy fellow like Krugman just can't seem "to catch on" to Barry's con game despite its rank obviousness, I'll let our friend Upton Sinclair handle this one:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

Zee said...


PS: And don't forget to give, give, and give some more to Obama and his political lackeys, 'til it hurts big time!


jhand said...

Karen: Regarding this kabuki exercise, I feel like I am a spectator at a WWF event where there are designated good guys and designated bad guys, but, at match's end, nothing has changed and both sides got paid.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Bravo! Pearl, Karen and annenigma - I have gotten to the point where I value the reader comments far more than I do the actual columns. Seriously, I know Krugman is supposed to be the friend of the middle class but he has either been told to shut up about Obama's perfidies and the TransPacific Partnership or he really is going over to the dark side. Sorry, I DO NOT SWALLOW that someone as smart as Krugman doesn't know what he is doing by supporting Obama and saying the TPP is no big deal.

Great column/essay! Karen.

Kat said...

"Enhanced SOTU", Karen? Do you get a set of Google Glasses?

Thus did Krugman officially join the hackocracy.

Kat said...

OH lookie-- it's Douthat's turn to go to bat for two parent families. Ugh. Pays lip service to economic forces and then something about making divorce harder.
Let's see that's Kristof, then Brooks, now Douthat. Who's next?
I want to highlight this as one of the reader's top picks in response to Brooks' paean to culture and "morality"
But today America has become a much coarser nation of guns, trucks and fireworks Instead of celebrating President Obama for his intelligence and industry, many, especially on the right, ridicule his "elitism", while at the same time having role models like "Honey Boo, Boo" and "Duck Dynasty". No teacher, school or social program can overcome the effects of growing up with undignified caregivers who revel in their own ignorance.
I thought of this as I read the highlights from Obama's 2010 SOTU helpfully provided by Karen. I assume that the writer of that comment is team blue all the way.
Please tell me how the writer of that comment or the deliverer of that SOTU differ from any AEI fellow?

fahrenheit451 said...


The formal State of the Union address calls forth commentary from others on the democratic left who have an entirely different view of our situation. Right now, sustained systemic alternative views which are being heard in the alternative press - I'm thinking of the Real News Network, especially, are Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, and Gar Alperovitz. Besides yourself, would you add any women to that list? I would add Cornel West and Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, although I'm not sure she quite fits in the sense of giving much time to alternatives. She certainly does devote time and energy to critiques of how the current system operates, and has linked to Alperovitz recently. It was pretty clear from some of her late summer of 2013 writings that she was of the same frame of mind as Hedgers and Alperovitz, that the system is reaching a crisis stage.


Zee said...

Those of you on Obama's mailing/e-mailing list have probably already seen this (and may still be gagging), but just in case you flushed it from your Inbox without reading it, I see that Michelle O. is asking you all for a $10 (or more!) contribution to “protect ObamaCare.”

“Friend— [So much nicer than “Hey,” don't you think?]

Earlier this month, because of what you did, it became illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against the up to 129 million Americans living with pre-existing conditions. Young Americans are able to stay on their parents' health care plans as they get on their feet, and we can now know that our insurance companies won't put lifetime caps on our coverage.

You should be so proud of that. That happened because you organized, you talked to your friends and neighbors, and you chipped in what you could, when you could, to elect Barack and a Congress who supported his agenda.

Today, I'm asking you to do it again.

So before Barack gives his State of the Union address tomorrow, chip in $10 or more and help protect Obamacare:

Thank you so much,


Ummmm... Wasn't ObamaCare supposed to be protecting us, rather us having to protect ObamaCare?

I didn't delve into the comment section very deeply, as most of them were pretty crude. One, however, from "Community Organizer" (Cleverly spelled upside down; I wonder how s(he) did that?) did catch my eye.

"She should've mentioned that to the millionaires she was partying with last week."

Well said.

Jay - Ottawa said...

The SOTU is Big Time Big Game theatre, right? I (not a football player) once spent time in a college dorm where a few varsity football players were also bunked. Seeing these guys pump themselves up before a game was awesome: They’d jab each other, then pound one fist into another:”Fight, Fight, FIGHT !!!” This went on for a long time, a "sublime madness." After which they were ready to butt heads with the opposition to the delight of the roaring crowd.

We need to pump ourselves up before tomorrow’s SOTU, especially if we dare watch it live on the TV without premedication. I came across some good stuff today to help us pump up for the hard punches of more austerity and more fascism about to descend upon us.

This gem is from one of the bloggers nicely listed above by fahrenheit451. Who else but Hedges? He has a very different essay this Monday, really a speech he delivered on a campus. The whole thing (voice or transcription) is marvelous, especially the three stanzas by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet which close the speech. If they don’t move you, then you’re dead.

Anyway, Hedges’ own closing is a few paragraphs above the verse he provides at the very end. This paragraph reminds us what we’re about. It puts us in the proper mindset as we reach for the remote and tune in to the SOTU.

“I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. It is, and I say this to people of all creeds or no creeds, to make an absurd leap of faith, to believe, despite all empirical evidence around us, that good always draws to it the good, that the fight for life always goes somewhere—we do not know where; the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we sustain our belief in a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.”

James F Traynor said...

I listened to Hedges' sermon, for that is what it was, and I was moved. It was a call to battle of a different kind, one I don't really understand. It is not in my nature, although I wish it were.

Noodge said...

Pete Seeger died yesterday.

I was eleven years old when I saw him perform for the first time at an environmental rally at Colt Park in Hartford, Connecticut. I was transfixed by his tenor and his banjo playing.

After a few rather innocuous songs, designed, I imagine, to get the audience singing along, he told us all we needed to make choices in our lives, and the choices we made would define us. Seeger then played "Which Side are You On?"

I knew then exactly the choices I would make for the rest of my life. At that moment I knew whose side I was on. I am certain Pete Seeger had a similar impact on many, many other lives.

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger. You are one of the few whose conscience will never trouble them.

Karen Garcia said...

@Fahrenheit 451,

Just off the top of my head, I would add Margaret Flowers, Margaret Kimberley, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, and Kate Randall to any list of fine women writer-activists. I am sure I'm leaving plenty out.

Will said...


I never knew much about Pete Seeger other than Springsteen claiming him as a major influence. I intend to change that fact, starting now. But before I mosey on over to YouTube, I gotta post this little snippet from a Gawker article I read this morning:

His popularity was temporarily derailed, however, when he was blacklisted by McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee because of his membership in the Communist Party during the 1940s. In 1955, a defiant Seeger was called to testify before the committee.

"I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature," he said. "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this." He also offered to sing the songs that the congressmen mentioned.

What a badass! Rest in peace, man.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Were great historical diarists such as Samuel Pepys and Victor Klemperer still alive, what observations they would have on today's State of the Union speech and the various public states of mind? Whatever these diarists might write, I would wager that they would not be fooled by the soaring exceptionalist rhetoric, the soothing assurances, and the thinly-disguised military/"security"/corporatist agenda I expect to be delivered by this president as he begins his sixth year in office. Yet the neoliberal portion of the modern press WILL continue to laud such emanations. Genuine progressives, on the other hand, remaining compos mentis, will justifiably continue to be disgusted and appalled.