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The State of the Union: People Don’t Care About The Details

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Captain Sensible gave a cracking performance out there tonight.

Every crafted word was about as rational and considered as it can be, threading the needle, professionally, professorially, as usual. The GOP and Tea Party responses, by contrast, came from the other side of the sanity spectrum, somewhere between total delusion, and crushing ignorance.

And yet, it’s the GOP in all its lies, puffery and vanity that scored big in the Mid-term elections last November. The Klingon forces of darkness zapped President Spock and his army of sane and sensible Democrats but good. Usually the good guy wins, but the rules were thoroughly shattered last time out.

All the wonks, from top to bottom tell us that the Obama Administration had got it right. The stimulus package put a million-plus to work, health care reform will cut the deficit, and the economy is growing at a good clip. So what gives? Why are people were so ungrateful?

The answer is simple.

The details mean nothing to 90% of the American people. Only those wonks and New Yorker readers and regular tweeters take this State of the Union stuff seriously. Most other people – I’d say 90% – make their superficial judgments about government and policy based on their own experiences, and a few shreds of news and information. They grab onto ‘bites’, they form strong opinions based on little understanding of government, taxation, economics, and policy making, In other words, most people ‘feel’ their political positions, they don’t ‘think’ them.

That 90% is hurting bad. Their jobs are on the line or gone, their houses are under-water, or under threat, their kids are at failing schools, and their middle class lives are being squeezed by outsourcing and crushing debts. Their response? Lash out. I mean the 90% is only human.

Barack Obama was elected in the eye of the harshest economic storm to hit America since the Great Depression. It truly was a historical moment. But instead of going on the offensive with the wind and Congress at his back, he called for calm. He took a studied bi-partisan approach to government and tried to steady the nerves of the 90%. He made deals, on the Stimulus package, on Health Care, on Financial Reform. He made sense at a time when people wanted someone or something to blame.

That opened the door to the bad guys. The GOP, and the FreedomWorks and Koch boys saw their chance to outflank Obama by appealing to the public anger in a way President didn’t have the foresight or stomach to do.

It didn’t matter that the GOP and Tea Party positions were (and are) total nonsense. They sound tough, they’re easy to understand, and they fulfill the need that the 90% have for enemies. And so the enemy instead became the deficit (for some bizarre, totally fatuous reason), and everyone believed that was now the problem. No matter that tax revenues have fallen through the floor. No matter that we’re paying for two wars, no matter that without a stimulus we’d have gone into a wholesale depression. The deficit was and is the new enemy. but it’s a bad guy that serves the anti-government right rather well.

If the public had cared even a jot about the facts, they would have rejected the GOP and Tea Party positions on public spending as the utter piffle they are. But they don’t. The GOP rhetoric ‘felt’ right. It fulfilled a deep, psychological need. The details weren’t important, even the really really big ones.

It didn’t have to be that way. Instead of letting the right lie their way into the hearts of the 90%, Obama could have provided them with real rather than imagined enemies; like Wall Street and the Financial Sector that got us into this mess, got bailed out and is still earning handsomely from our misery, like Un-American American companies that export jobs overseas, and reap the benefits in profits at the expense of the American worker, like China, which steals our technology, takes those jobs, and fixes its currency too. All good enemies that the 90% could ‘feel’ were not on their side. and all enemies that serve a Democratic rather than a Republican agenda.

It was a big fat hanging curve just waiting to be driven out of the park. But Captain Sensible whiffed.

The results are plain as the powder on John Boehner’s nose. A large and fired-up Republican majority in the House, hungry to tackle that deficit with the inchoate support of the 90% who are angry enough to support the idea.

Which left Captain Sensible with a big problem tonight. How to ‘do something’ when you have to cut discretionary spending to satisfy the 90%. So tge Prez talked about innovation and education and R+D and out-competing China all that other stuff at the same time as saying he was going to freeze spending for five years. Uhh? No matter that China Inc, our number one “competitor”, is actually a command economy that can and does pump trillions into its economy on the say so of the Communist Party Central Committee. No need to worry about mixed party seating in the Chinese Parliament, because there’s only one party, so naturally a consensus of opinion is not too hard to reach.

In short, after oh so reasonably backing half-baked so-called landmark legislation that lacked the punch to connect with the 90%, and keeping cool when he should have been pointing the finger at our real enemies, Obama has reasoned himself into a corner, having to innovate and cut all at the same time.

It could have been so different, but instead it was just another State of the Union speech, full of promises, full of inconsistencies, full of the usual bi-partisan BS. In other words another speech that will quickly be forgotten by the 90%.

Meanwhile, the angry GOP just keep on pounding.

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Written by coolrebel

January 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Obama goes from Spock to Kirk in one speech.

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But is it too late?

Last night, Barack Obama finally put the hurt on the Republicans. Listening to Senator John Kyl’s floundering and blustering at the State of the Union address shows that it clearly hit home. Obama did what he had to do. He diverted blame for the economic shit sandwich firmly to the Bush Administration and told America that he hated the bank bailout in no uncertain terms. His frank, confident tone was a breath of fresh air, a pleasant surprise that left us wondering, where his this guy been for the last year?

It took the shock of the Massachusetts upset to get the President thinking he needed to be speaking the people’s language. And he did just that. It’s a long shot to suggest that a single speech will change the course of events in a significant way, but it could – if it’s the beginning of a full-on, sustained populist campaign. The speech was peppered with great sound bites, but one of the themes I was impressed by (partly because I’ve been touting the idea for 18months) was the idea that the government should be run like the American family. Bringing the business of government down to a human level is always a great idea with voters.

In my last post, I suggested that the President get on the road, work out of Air Force One, and talk to the people in this country that are really hurting. Getting into campaign mode, at the same time as attacking Wall Street,  pushing the “good for business” aspects of Healthcare reform and other stimulus efforts, as well as enacting serious efforts to stem the foreclosure crisis will really help. As for the deficit, the message is a smart one. Let’s cut it! Except that we can’t in any meaningful way – and because economic recovery will do the job far better. People (who’ve wholeheartedly drunk Reaganomic kool-aid) like the idea.  But deep down they know that actually cutting the deficit during the dark times would hurt them so they aren’t really interested in actually doing it.

Keep it up, Mr. President. Don’t make this a one shot lighter.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2010 at 2:30 am