Tomorrow evening, January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama will stand before a special joint session of Congress to present the Constitutionally mandated State of the Union Address. As President Obama is a wise and circumspect orator, a skilled politician and a naturally conciliatory person, he will probably not give the kind of speech millions of progressives, liberals and Democrats would love to hear him give.
We will certainly hear a speech that will thrill us at times with ardent, engaging calls for tolerance, cooperation, hope and determination in confronting the many daunting challenges our nation faces in this turbulent age of promise and peril.
According to all the pre-speech hype from the TV talking heads, we are led to expect a “feisty” President to lay out an agenda that relies more on executive action than Congressional legislation. Confronted by historic levels of obstruction and inaction by the opposition party, particularly by the Republican majority in the House, Obama has little choice than to try to make progress on his own this year. Yet, I don’t expect him to be completely candid about why he has encountered so much Republican resistance.
In fact, there will be some large elephants in the room that will likely go unaddressed.
That’s because, as our country’s first black President, while Obama may be allowed to strike a “feisty” note, he can’t afford to appear angry or defiant – though his opponents will surely label him such (and worse) regardless of his actual demeanor. There’s too large, vocal and virulent a sector of the U.S. electorate (and political class) that can’t tolerate the mixed-race son of a black African father and a white American mother bluntly lashing out against a “do-nothing Congress” as President “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry Truman famously did.
Southern blacks were forced to appear humble and deferential in the presence of whites in the Jim Crow South. And now, despite all the progress we’ve made since the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a black Leader of the Free World is still not free to get righteously indignant and tell it like it is.
Everyone – even many liberal wise men – agree that President Obama can’t appear to be an angry black man. (Of course, you can’t be an angry woman, either.) But the same politicos and pundits admire tough-talking, shoot-from-the-hip, white public officials from Governor Chris Christie to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It’s a clear, shameful double standard.
Now, let me be clear. Racial animus isn’t the only reason I don’t expect President Obama to give ‘em hell in his State of the Union speech. It’s clear by now that he’s a natural bridge-builder and consensus-seeker. Obama’s not the kind of populist firebrand that some on the left hoped he might be in 2008 when they heard the soaring rhetoric of his inspirational Hope and Change campaign. I believe he’s sincere about trying to encourage a less divisive political atmosphere.
But Obama can’t clap with one hand — and the GOP refuses to extend theirs.
So, mindful of the complex reasons that President Obama can’t give the speech I’d love to hear, please indulge me in a bit of political fantasy.
Just imagine that an impassioned Barack Obama wrote the following words in an off-the-top-of-his-head, get-it-off-his-chest first draft. Then, after reading it back to himself, the calm and cautious peacemaker President was about to get out his red pen and start to temper his words – when I got someone to distract him so I could steal this draft off his desk…
TEXT OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S 2014 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans – including all you assault rifle-toting, Bible thumping, intolerant, government-hating folks and those of you who are still unable to get over the fact that I’m only half as white as the 43 Presidents who preceded me.
The state of our nation is nowhere near as good as it would be if my Republican opposition in Congress would actually do their job and work for the benefit of all Americans – instead of misleading their less educated, bigoted and utterly confused “low information” supporters into voting against their own economic interests by flogging hot button social issues like abortion and gay marriage while pursuing economic policies that favor corporations and the wealthiest one percent over the interests of the vast majority of middle class and working class Americans – let alone the neediest among us.
In the Gospels, Jesus talked a lot about how “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” And he was always trying to help the poor and the sick and those oppressed. Somehow, I don’t think that Jesus would be trying to balance the budget by kicking needy families with children off food stamps – or denying unemployment insurance to working families during a hard, cold winter. Yet that’s what these supposedly Jesus-loving conservatives in the GOP – especially that wacko Tea Party bunch – are always pushing us to do.
In order to avoid a second, economy-damaging government shutdown, Democrats in Congress – and this President – were forced to ignore the explicit teachings of Jesus and take food out of the mouths of babies and deny much-needed help to workers who find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. (And folks, these unemployed workers PAID into the system for years to make sure they were insured against an economic downturn.)
I want to particularly acknowledge the hard, flinty heart of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. If there’s a working man or woman in Kenosha, Racine or Walworth Counties who is still supporting Paul Ryan, I have no idea why. Wake up, folks! Look at the guy’s record. He’s all about corporations getting all the breaks, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer – and the middle class footing the bill.
And what’s with that hair? Is he an Eddie Munster fan or what?
Sorry, Paul, just kidding — about the hair. The rest is, as Sergeant Joe Friday used to say, “just the facts.” You don’t remember Dragnet, Paul? It was on TV around the same time as The Munsters.
Now, I wish I didn’t have to talk like this. I’m a nice guy by nature. I encourage people to get along, and I think we can best solve our problems and meet the challenges we face through consensus building and common effort.
But I’ve tried bipartisanship and compromise – and Republicans just won’t take “yes” for an answer. Let’s take Health Reform, for instance. Many in my party are in favor of the type of government-run, single-payer health care system that’s been successful throughout Europe and Canada. Barring that, many progressives hoped for at least a so-called “public option” – but what did I do?
What did the President that conservatives and Tea Baggers openly excoriate as everything from Stalin to Hitler to Mao — and as both a communist and a fascist do? Did I propose the Big Government system that the majority of my party wanted? No, I didn’t. Instead, I compromised by adopting an idea that was the brainchild of conservatives: the individual mandate. I took a huge political hit within my progressive base to seek a deal that would extend affordable health care to millions of uninsured Americans. And I did it by promoting a Republican idea.
So, how did Republicans respond to my bipartisan approach? Did they appreciate the political courage it took to disappoint so many Democrats and progressive independents in the pursuit of the greater good?
In the words of House Speaker John Boehner — “Hell no!”
My reward from the opposition party – that’s you, you Republicans and Tea Baggers — has been nothing but a constant shit storm of misinformation, vilification and obstruction – including that needless government shutdown.
And please don’t tell me that Democrats and Republicans play the game the same way — because the level of obstruction I’ve endured at the hands of the right wing in Congress is historic.
The truth is that there’s no historical precedent for the number of cabinet-level nominees that have been blocked or delayed by Republicans during my administration. Let me emphasize, my fellow Americans: this has never happened before.
Republicans in the Senate even filibustered my nomination of a Republican Vietnam War hero and former Senator, Chuck Hagel. In fact, Chuck was the first Defense Secretary candidate ever filibustered. Again, I reached out in a nonpartisan way – and got smacked in the face for doing it. But it’s not that I was hurt – it’s that America suffered from a needlessly slow and combative process in filling a job that’s vital to our national security.
Lately, Republicans have filibustered nearly every one of my Cabinet appointments. Guys, this is my team we’re taking about. A President gets to name his own team. Advise and consent. That’s your job, Senators. And, frankly, I’ve had enough of the “advise” and not enough “consent”.
My judicial nominees are also getting the shaft. They’re waiting exceptionally long periods to be confirmed. The average wait for circuit and district judges while I’ve been in the White House has been 227 days, compared with 175 days under President Bush. I’ve got one appellate judge who waited a year for her nomination to be voted on.
There have always been filibusters in the U.S. Senate, but they were rare. Before 1960, there were only four times in U.S. history when Senators of one party had to muster a 60-vote super majority to end a filibuster. My so-called “loyal opposition” has used the tactic far more than ever before. Since 2007, the Senate Historical Office has recorded that Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times — an all-time record of which nobody should be proud.
This is not business as usual, my fellow Americans.
During the legislative fights to pass the landmark Civil Rights bills of the early 1960′s, the filibuster became a weapon used by the bigots opposed to ending segregation. Still, even in those charged and turbulent times, filibusters were rare — and the Senators had to take the floor and keep the floor by talking hour after hour. Today, Mitch McConnell (that turtle-looking guy with the grumpy face sitting on the Republican side of the aisle) just tells the Democratic Majority Leader that no GOP Senators are willing to allow a vote – or even a debate – on an issue. It’s filibuster by default.
Lately, Majority Leader Harry Reid has implemented some reforms that have unclogged the Congressional constipation regarding my nominees. Thanks, Harry. What the hell took you so long?
I know you were trying to be collegial. I understand. I’ve tried to be that guy, too. But enough’s enough, right? Glad you finally gave ’em hell, Harry.
So, why is it that Republicans aren’t willing to cooperate at all with my administration? Why did Majority Leader McConnell, the senior Senator from Kentucky, announce early in my tenure that his number one priority was to make me a one-term President?
Why wasn’t this eminent Republican leader’s first priority to improve the economy, repair our nation’s failing, outdated infrastructure and improve the lives of working Americans? Why was I his target?
I know I’m not supposed to say it – but sometimes I’ve got to wonder if that good old Southern boy just can’t allow himself to work side by side with a black President. Is that the problem, Mitch?
I’m just sayin’…
Look, America. This nation is not going backward. And I’m not going to give up. The arc of history bends toward freedom and tolerance – and the GOP must get on board and help us move forward into this new century – dealing with the problems of poverty and the obscene disparity of wealth in our nation, our global environmental crisis, the scourge of gun violence, malfeasance and amorality on Wall Street, and all the other issues that must be dealt with in order for America – and the world – to survive and grow in peace and prosperity.
But if my Republican friends continue to be the party of obstruction, intolerance and willful ignorance, they will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Starting with the mid-term elections later this year.
I’m angry, America. I’m pissed. I’ve lost faith in the possibility of my Republican friends putting aside partisanship and idealogical extremism in favor of the general welfare. But I haven’t lost faith in you, my fellow Americans. I believe in the wisdom and goodness and tolerance of the vast majority of the American people who truly embrace the ideals our nation was founded on: freedom, equality and justice for all.
As President Abraham Lincoln said in his first Inaugural Address, at one of the gravest moments in our nation’s history:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Even you, Mitch.