Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Breaking News: President Obama might actually be the progressive President he said he would be. Maybe.

President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, an event that is always a great night in American political theater, started with a clear and concise statement. He called 2014 a “breakthrough year.” He wasn't wrong. It’s been fifteen years since we've experienced an economy like this. We’ve been fighting wars for nearly as long that are finally winding down. He followed up with “the shadow of crisis has passed” and declared victory over the great recession of the housing bubble. Then he said something he hasn't said in years, “the state of the Union is strong.”

The President wasted very little time getting into the message so many had been waiting for, and so many remain afraid of. It’s time to take a step, or two for that matter, forward. Keep progressing. Continue working toward a just and fair society and keep from allowing our Union, the same one that’s so strong right now, from sailing into the drift of oligarchy and theological zealotry, while rebuilding the middle class to resemble its glory days. 

The Times, They Are NOT Changing Back

Interestingly, the people that seem so interested in taking our social policies back to the 1950’s don’t seem very interested in taking our economy back there as well.
The President used the story of a family that bounced back from the housing bubble. He talked about a tight nit family that can bounce back from everything, and came back there to close things out. It was a well crafted and completely obvious (on purpose) effort to call to the two sides to work together. He followed up by reminding the very people he wants to work with him of just how well his administration’s policies have worked and that attempts to reverse them will be vetoed out of hand.

That was a strong statement indeed, and a good start. Then he turned on the afterburners.
“It’s… it’s 2015. It’s time.” He said referring to the gender pay gap. Then he called out the entire congress on the minimum wage telling them to try and live on $15,000.00 a year, and appealing to the government’s role not to give people money, but to give people a fair shot. That was the stride of what can easily be called the most progressive 15 minutes of the Obama Administration, so far.

I Sort Of Remember This Guy...

I remember 2008 Obama, or “candidate Obama” as the news media likes to say. That Obama was progressive. And by progressive I mean like, could have been confused for being a car insurance commercial because he was so progressive. Then he was elected, and immediately applied the emergency break. Then he put a boot on the tires, a club on the wheel, and took out the battery. Nearly 7 years later he turned the ignition, and the car roared back to life. The question now: Where is the car going?

Checking The Boxes

The foreign policy section was milk toast1, expected, and fairly uneventful. Obama wanted authority to do things we’re already doing. He did remind us that Russia could be a problem, briefly any way. He also made good use of the new Cuban policy. None of this is really that controversial. From there the speech dropped into simple topics with blunted language designed to make the whole room clap. It was totally different from the first half which was a sharpened scalpel slashing at the GOP’s entrenched policies of “the good old days.” That is, until he got to climate change. Obama, like the climate, turned it up. He called out the people that won’t simply accept the evidence and continue to bury their heads in the sand. 

And then there were drones…and free speech…and then a Peter, Paul, and Mary song. It felt a little like the end of a test question at that point. The time was running out and the writers wanted to get in as much as they can. GTMO? Check. Drones? Check. LGBT? Check. The ending though, that was top notch speech writing, and the kind of delivery Obama is built for. Whether you liked the message or not, the product was high quality.

A Call To Arms

The 2015 State of the Union was the single most progressive, forward thinking and well thought hour of the entire Obama administration. For liberals it was exciting. It was a President they were ready to get behind and willing to stick with. For conservatives it was as annoying as everything else Obama does.  Hopefully the message isn't lost because of a predisposed hatred for his policies. It would be a shame if the GOP’s only goal for the next two years is to prove that they’re right and Obama is wrong. The state of our Union is strong. 

Hopefully we can keep it that way for a while, and just focus on electing the best leaders. As the President said we can “look to the Future, instead of our past.” Or we can keep worrying about gay marriage and pretending we didn't just have one of the warmest years on record. "Imagine if we broke out of our patterns, and did something different."

1 The proper spelling of milk toast is actually an interesting story. In the dictionary, it's "milquetoast," which was the name of an old comic book character. The character was named for "milk toast." No kidding. I like the milk toast version. Either way, it was bland.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Independent Variables: Failing to Control for the “O” Factor in 2014

Do you remember the 2006 midterms? If not, it's not really your fault. All the news coverage in the last weeks leading up to the 2014 midterms was about the impending doom for Democrats and the coming surge for Republicans. If you watch Fox News then this cycle was about putting “American Liberalism on Trial” by showing Democrats the door. I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of what “American Liberalism” actually means, but Megan Kelly was pretty confident about it. If you watch MSNBC these Mid Terms are the result of the base not being passionate enough about important issues and corporate money buying results, and whatever Al Sharpton is talking about.

The money thing has a ring of truth to it, but also happens both ways so it doesn't explain a sweeping result, it's just a factor. If you watch CNN these midterms were about the Empire State Building, I think. If you watch ESPN these midterms were about LeBron James and the 4 team NCAA Football playoff.1 The coverage on ESPN was probably the better of the four. But, I digress.

Back to my first question. Do you remember the 2006 midterms? By now you've had time to think about (google) the results. If you didn't recall the outcome (use the right search terms) then let me fill you in. In 2006 it looked almost the same as it did in 2014. Republicans controlled both houses, and in a wave of unpopular sentiment for the current administration the Democrats took over. Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker of the House. Democrats took 6 new seats in the Senate. The people had spoken!

Mirror Images
Fast forward to 2014. Same thing. The President's popularity is low (though still higher at this point than his predecessor) and people still have problems. Sure, the economy is humming along and the stock market is up. Sure, gas prices are lower now than they've been in a LONG time. Sure, Mitt Romney said the President has direct control of gas prices, by which logic the current prices are 100% the result of something President Obama did. Sure, unemployment is lower now than it was when President W. Bush left office. That isn't enough.

Instead of talking about jobs and economic growth, Democrats spent all that time and money trying to prove they either weren't Obama, or that their Republican challenger was going to deport everyone and repeal the 19th Amendment. For some, it may actually be accurate, but for many it was a necessity. The "O" factor was the independent variable that threw the whole equation out of whack, and sunk the Democratic ship. For Greg Orman it was the death nail in Kansas.

President Obama was dealing with transparent political calculation on immigration reform, taking a beating on Ebola (which you aren't going to get so just stop it already)2 and whatever the hell is happening in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Russia has somehow fallen off the map of things to be concerned about and the only thing the US has done to deal with them, at all, is Chelsea Handler taking a topless picture to punk Putin.3 Not to mention North Korea doing who knows what. Which Kim Jong are we on now? But Obama's failure, yes I'll say that word again, his failure to deal with the big issues has allowed the little issues to fester into real problems.

The new car smell wore off after the 2012 elections and the other Democrats realized too late they were following a guy with no GPS and hey, I've seen that Chipotle once already... we're lost!

That's what the 2014 midterms were about. They were the result of a party's leadership failing (just like 2006) and the resulting slide to the other direction. It's cyclical. It's natural, and it's not actually that big of a deal. It may have just a little something to do with gerrymandering and voter suppression, but I think we need to see the numbers in more than one election to know that.

Moving Forward
Right now all signs point to Christi v. Clinton in 2016, and a Christi win would solidify Republican control of all three branches (including the Supreme Court) for at least 2 years. It could make things interesting. What we know for sure is that from here to 2016 we will see some GOP in-fighting as the leadership changes/emerges.

Obviously the ACA (Obamacare for the FoxNews crowd, Mana From Heaven for the MSNBC crowd) is first up. Followed by huge immigration overhaul, or reform, whichever.

Then we have the Ted Cruz agenda. I don't know which civil right he'll attack first, but my guess is he'll go after marriage. Ted Cruz sponsoring a U.S. Constitutional amendment to exclude all persons of the same sex (or as I'm sure he'd prefer, “The Gays”) from enjoying the same basic rights as “The Straights” will happen soon.5

The GOP members are looking back and reminiscing to a time when women were women (and not CEO's or Presidential candidates) and men were men (and didn't have to worry about being caught with pictures of the genitals in text messages) and “The Gays” didn't bother people with their claims for “equality” and “rights.” We (white men) didn't have to censor ourselves (were allowed to pretty well do and say anything with no real repercussion) and it was just so much better.

Yes, it was like that but despite the GOP's best efforts, which is what 2014-2018 will be, it's unlikely things will ever regress that badly. For those of us under 65 we need only to endure and remember that progress, though inevitable, is not instant. Heck, no one in my own generation is even old enough to run for the Senate yet. Who knows that will happen in 2020 and beyond?  I doubt we see any flying cars (less than a year Doc Brown...) but maybe we'll see full recognition of our basic human rights. After all, there's always hope. At least that's what they told me in 2008.

1.   For the record, I'll take Fl. State, Auburn, Oregon, and Miss. State.
2.  Seriously, get out your calculator and divide 2/300,000,000 and hit enter. It's .000000006%. That is the current statistical chance of an American citizen getting Ebola. Chill out.
3.  Wouldn't that be a great show, Punkin' Putin? And no, I didn't provide a link to the picture.
4.  I'd also like to see the percentage of voter turnout that are within 5 years of the national average for life expectancy... just saying.
5. I'm not sure people have been paying full attention to what the likely GOP agenda is, because it's mostly an agenda of tradition driven policies as a ridiculous attempt to legislate our country back to the 1950's. For those who have been paying attention they're either being disingenuous or are just as appalled as this author.