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By Thomas Vincent
Interested readers are invited to check out Tom's Political Blog "Certain Doubt"
Over time, the annual ritual of the State of the Union speech has come to resemble a combination of minstrel show and kabuki theater. This year was no exception. For progressives, this year's SOTU speech, and the ridiculous "rebuttals" by representatives of the republican party present a kind of "good news/bad news" scenario.
On the one hand, any fears the Obama administration may have had of a serious electoral challenge from the right in 2012 had to have been aleviated on Tuesday night by the performances of Michelle Bachmann and Paul Ryan. From Bachmann's charts and graphs to her laughable massacre of history she came across as worse than a bimbo. She looked like a total idiot. Even worse, her inability to look at the right camera – a media faux pas that ranks right up there with "dead air" – made her look... like a total TV amateur. Despite America's addiction to reality talent shows, if there's one thing the electorate will not excuse it's a candidate who doesn't know how to look good on camera. (Remember Richard Nixon?)
For his part, Paul Ryan came off as a bland, tepid hack whose tired republican boilerplate had all the passion of day old fish wrapped in soggy newsprint.
We believe government’s role is both vital and limited – to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights...
When Ronald Reagan spouted tripe like these he at least knew how to make us believe it. Paul Ryan was not just a feeble evangelist for the conservative credo, he was a lousy salesman. Once again, if there's one thing Americans – and corporate executives – can't stand, it's a salesman who doesn't know how to make a pitch.
The most glaringly bad part of Ryan's speech was its negative tone.
"The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country."
"Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis."
Once again, Ryan would do well to look at some of Ronald Reagan's speeches. Or Obama's speeches for that matter – the ones from the 2008 campaign. You don't sell soap by telling people how dirty they have become. You sell soap by telling folks how clean and sweet smelling they will be if they use your product.
If Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachmann are the best that the republicans can produce for the next election, 2012 should be a cakewalk for Obama.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the re-election of Barack Obama is not likely to produce any better result for the American people than if any of the current crop of republican hopefuls were somehow able to unseat him. If this year's State of the Union Speech is any example, Obama's next term is not likely to differ significantly from his first. By that I mean that if re-elected, the current trend of deference to big business indicated by the president's speech will, in all likelihood, not change a whit. Consider the following from the 2010 SOTU speech:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.
Not only did this year's speech contain no criticisms of big business, but the tone of this year's speech was positively glowing in it's praise for business:
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.While Obama can't be faulted for couching his speech in positive terms, emphasizing growth and investment, this speech wasn't really intended to sell the American people on anything. Instead, what this year's speech really boiled down to was a coded message that when it comes to big business, not only will the president not criticize corporate America, for the next year he's going to do everything in his power to make sure that the rich are happy so that the tsunami of corporate cash will flow to his re-election campaign and not to his republican challengers. For example:
But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success... To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I've ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.
In short, for the next year, when it comes to corporate relations, Obama will not just be reticent to criticize multinational corporations, he'll be dropping his trousers and reaching for the Vaseline.
The most damning indictment of Obama's current attitude towards standing up for the American people was the fact that nowhere in the entire 7,000 word speech does he mention the words "employment" or "unemployment." He uses the terms "business" 20 times and "jobs" 23. But nowhere does he mention any initiative or incentive to get American corporations to hire American workers instead of Chinese and Mexicans.
Thus the good news/ bad news scenario implied by this year's SOTU is this: Obama will probably get a second term, but in order to get it, he's likely to be just as deferential to large multinational corporations as a republican president would be.
Either way, the American people lose.