Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last Go Round




I imagine there are a lot of Republicans happy that this was President Obama's last State of the Union address, but many others felt he saved his best for last.  Rather than offer a laundry list of legislative goals, Obama painted his speech in broad strokes, giving it more color and vibrancy than he has in the past.  He answered his critics by highlighting his many accomplishments, yet criticizing himself for not healing the partisan divide.  At one point, he said that if he had been Lincoln or Roosevelt he might have bridged that divide but history tells us otherwise.

This has always been a bitterly divided nation.  Lincoln faced a bitter hard fought re-election only to be assassinated one year into his second term.  Roosevelt, Franklin I assume, overreached his authority and found himself at odds with Congress throughout his last years in office.  Neither were able to get a Civil Rights bill through Congress.  It would be Lyndon Johnson who would achieve that goal only to alienate the Southern wing of his political party.

But, the President wasn't delving into history, so much as evoking it.  We remember Lincoln and Roosevelt in a far more positive light than they were viewed during their time.  That will probably be the case with Barack Obama as well, as his accomplishments are staggering.  His has been the most proactive presidential administration since Johnson, greatly expanding civil rights, health care and international diplomacy.

He overcame two major foreign policy hurdles this past year in Cuba and Iran, using stealth and diplomacy that I think even Henry Kissinger would have to begrudgingly respect.  Obama has returned America to a foreign policy of containment, in which his administration has re-evaluated our international relationships and isolated the trouble makers using minimal military force.   He has gone out of his way to avoid further conflict, which some may see as weakness, but had long been the cornerstone of our foreign policy until George W. Bush decided to launch his War on Terror.

Of course, Lindsey Graham and other hawks rolled their eyes, as they are part and parcel of the military industrial complex that has become the engine of our economy.  The federal government pours more than one trillion dollars each year into national security, financing defense contracts like that of the F-35 fighter jet that was virtually obsolete the day it finally rolled out onto the tarmac.  These projects aren't about making us more secure, as they are to provide contracts to a myriad of special interest groups spread around the country, mostly in key Congressional states.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration remains notoriously underfunded and troops have seen minimal pay raises as a result of bitter Congressional fighting over the projected 2016 defense budget.

Surprisingly, Obama only made passing references to transportation and alternative energy, two issues which his administration has tried to get Congress to address.  What gains that have been made in this regard have been largely through executive orders, as his administration has failed to get Congress to put forward a meaningful energy bill that would take us into the 21st century.  The Republicans have continually insisted on adding Keystone XL as a rider, which would undermine the President's stated energy policy.

What he did stress was hope in the future, challenging the television audience to stand up and be counted.  He bemoaned the politics of cynicism that pervades Washington and the news media, saying it is incumbent on Americans to demand greater representation in government.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is the optimistic note we need given all the rancor and bitterness we have been hearing on the GOP campaign trail.

He plans to take his reform policies on the road this year, campaigning for a brighter future.  I well imagine this means stumping for Democratic candidates across the country, as all we have heard from Republicans is how they will rollback the reforms that have been made these past 7 years, notably the Affordable Care Act, which is seen as the cornerstone of Obama's legacy.  Good luck, Mr. President, and may the force be with you.

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