It should be well understood by those who read here that I take, at best, a passing interest in American politics. That nation’s political system is as far from our own as bile is from bouillon.
That said, since the early days of the GFC, and especially since the rout of conservatism here in 2007 and there in 2008, my philosophical spirit has been inspired. I view conservatism as the bane of the existence of those who strive, yet face adversity as a fact of that existence. Conservatism looks after itself and those who support it. I believe a civilised society is one which looks after itself on all levels, and offers a hand to those who genuinely need it. A civilised society does not allow the strength and power which wealth provides to vest in the hands of the select few without suitable checks and balances being in place and assurances that those who can pay, do so. I believe in egalitarianism. The ‘fair go’.
I think that’s why I find myself more & more often paying attention to American politics. It’s still a perverse system, and one which, since the election of Barack Obama by an overwhelming majority of voters in a system which doesn’t encourage inclusion, I’m finding more and more alluring from a spectators point of view. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the man in the big chair is not only more attuned to the beliefs that I espouse, but is an orator who while reading speeches written for him, actually sounds like as though he’s speaking to the people. I believe he is. I believe he is ‘of’ the people which is something his predecessor clearly was not.
So, as I write this, I find myself watching and listening to Obama’s State of the Union address from yesterday. As speeches go, it’s not a bad one, but not all that inspiring given the sombre background of the American economy which is the meat of his address. Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! I’ve read it described as and now upon listening, I’d have to agree. The man also has listened, and understood. He seems somehow more aware of the partisan division, and made great mileage from his government’s achievements over the past 12 months. This timeline MUST be highlighted, I believe. 12 months. That’s all. One quarter of a first term for a President who was handed the worst economic situation since 1933, where more jobs have been lost since 1910, where two failed wars of aggression were on-going and in a world where America’s capital among the global community was well and truly overdrawn. A mountain of an undertaking to be resolved somehow in the face of the most polarised society any President has faced, before a society which has been handed almost everything it’s ever wanted and before a society which has impatience and arrogance at it’s very core. The US is the best at everything, just ask any of her citizens, and they’ll gladly tell you. Anything at all. They don’t understand why the man in the chair hasn’t fixed things by now, and they don’t want to understand. There is even a dedicated cadre which revel in the realities created by their own.
I find it interesting to watch the House as the camera pans around, especially when Obama says something that brings a standing ovation. There are a lot of those, which again goes back to the wide partisan divide. Democrats will stand to applaud their President, which is only to be expected, but Republican’s should also be standing to applaud in the spirit of non-partisan respect for the office. This was the way with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and every President right through to ‘Dubya’, but it’s clear from the video that respect for a black man as President is a difficult concept for some to come to terms with. I noticed particularly that it took John McCain standing, smiling and applauding to one of his President’s announcements before a collective of Republicans around him would deign to stand in dribs and drabs, half-heartedly banging hands together. This is the terrible failure of American politics. The absolute an utter hatred of conservatives, toward what they perceive as their ideological opposites. It’s more than political opposition. It appears to be something far, far more personal and bitter. I can’t help but wonder just what it is they perceive as so opposed to what they believe. Do they even know themselves?
I was pleased to hear Obama make an issue of the Health Care Debate, albeit less than the fire & brimstone approach he took during his campaign. A logical and rational explanation of why he is fervent about the issue. It’s all perfectly reasonable. Sadly, it was during one of the standing ovations on this issue that I notice quite a number of seats being sat on, as other’s occupants stood and applauded. I find it difficult to believe that Obama’s political opponents would actively support the fleecing of taxpayers by major health insurers, the denial of cover on grounds of profitability or pre-existing condition, or projected possibilities of chronic illnesses. I know that Obama’s opponents do think that way, but it’s still difficult to accept. Even as he stated categorically that all troops in Iraq would be home by August, 2010, seats remained sat on with occupants unmoving as a majority stood and applauded. Such antithetic vitriol is incredibly sad to see. Such disrespect is shameful.
It’s a sound approach that he proposes taxing the major finance houses. It’s a good approach to freeze some levels of government spending. It’s smart to provide more support for education and to more effectively target tax incentives for business and industry. It’s also a sound political strategy to emphasis the word, ‘we’ as much as he did throughout his address. ‘We’ cut taxes; when ‘we’ came to office; ‘we’ do not give up. And why shouldn’t he? The man has the worst job of any President since FDR. I applaud his taking of credit where it’s due. I applaud also the fact that the olive branch remains extended towards his enemies, but now clearly gripped in a clenched fist, not relaxed out-stretched fingers. The so-called criticism of the Supreme Court bench, highlighted by conservative ideologues as an outrageous attack on the judiciary by a totalitarian dictator, was a non-event. little more than a sentence of a dozen words. Nothing more than a confirmation of opinions I’ve heard & read expressed from both sides of the divide since the decision came down, constitutionally decreeing that major corporations, indeed foreign powers, have the same rights to monetarily support, and lobby in favour of political candidates, as natural persons. Clearly a perversion of any natural person’s rights over those of non-entities, but one has to realise that as a constitutional decision, the flaw lies within the constitution itself, not within the impartiality of the judiciary. A concept which Obama’s opponents in blogland conveniently sidestep and ignore.
I continue to find the American political system strange, perverse and worrying. Worrying because it’s a system which decrees whether the global community needs to be concerned, or comforted. Whether, as we’ve experienced, that nation is directed by a blindsided war-monger and their camarilla, or a disciple of inclusion, pluralism and multi-lateralism. In the sixty-nine minutes and forty-four seconds of the recording, there was much said, and much promised again. Again, no time table, but Obama’s opponents will undoubtedly put their own upon his targets. Throughout the entire hour, nine and three-quarter minutes, I found the final five most inspiring.
In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America — values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values that they’re living by; business values or labor values. They’re American values.
Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -– our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government –- still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. No wonder there’s so much disappointment. I campaigned on the promise of change –- change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change –- or that I can deliver it. But remember this –- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.
Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths and pointing fingers. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation. But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going -– what keeps me fighting -– is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism, that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people, that lives on.
It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.” It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We are American.” It lives on in the 8-year-old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go someplace they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from the rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.
The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people. We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment — to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
I’m not American, and often would thank all the powers that exist in this Universe for that consideration. But bugger me if I don’t find those last five minutes worth of address thrilling, such as I’ve not felt from an American President speaking for a long, long time. The man speaks the facts, the truth. He knows he faces just as onerous a task now, as he faced twelve months ago. He’ll have a genuine fight before him and I’ve no doubt things will get decidedly dirty, but still….I admire the man’s spirit.
The video and transcript of the address are both available on the Whitehouse site. Ameriphiles will love it, conservatives will denigrate it, but rational people will form their own opinions.