Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blogging the State of the Union Address

As I write, BHO is giving his first state of the union address, a mere week after his party lost a Senate seat that had been the private property of the Kennedy family since 1952.

As everbody knows, there are three things he might do in this speech:

1.) Signal a move toward the center, a la Bill Clinton.

2.) Signal a move toward the parts of the hard-left program that are not unpopular, namely, bashing, throttling, and expropriating banks and large corporations. In a democracy, the wealthy are never popular.

3.) Blame Bush.

I expect him to talk about himself a lot (see above). [Later: someone later claimed he used the word "I" 96 times in the SOTU.]

Later: Here are my notes:

Five minutes in: he is doing the feel-your-pain thing about the people who are being hammered by the ongoing recession/depression. I also note that he doesn't have that half-smile that seems to be habitual with him, and he is avoiding that looking-down-his-nose-at-you expression he sometimes has.

Eleven minutes in: That was quick. Now he he is smirking and joking again.

Thirteen minutes: This is already turning into a campaign speech. The stimulus bill "saved" two million jobs. [So there are two million events that didn't happen, but would have if he hadn't done whatever he did. No explanation as to how he knows this.]

He calls for a new "jobs bill," something he should have done a year ago.

He just looked down his nose at me. I hate it when he does that.

He also proposed giving the TARP money that he got from the banks and give it back to banks to loan to small businesses.

Also: abolishing the capital gains tax for small businesses. The Republicans cheer.

Slashing "tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas" and give them to ones that don't.

He just blamed Bush for the first time, talking about how the boom of the last decade was based on a housing boom and speculation [which is basically true, of course].

Now he has called for "safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country" and offshore oil drilling. I missed seeing if the Repubs cheered that one.

Now he's on to global warming again, claiming that "clean energy" will lead to leadership of the global economy. [How does that work?]

Somehow, he is going to double our exports over the next five years. He is going to "seek new markets aggressively," presumably meaning expanding free trade agreements. [At least I hope that's what he means.]

Education: "rewarding success" rather than failure. [No details are offered there.] Federal aid to community colleges and federally subsidized student loans. [Okay, I know what that means.]

Yikes! He just called for forgiving student loans for people who "go into public service," ie., get a government job. [That is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard. Government is the only sector of employment that is expanding. Government workers are paid much more than the rest of us already. Why in the name of all that is holy should we further reward people for joining this priviledged class of exploiters?]

Damage control over the health care bill debacle. He takes some of the blame: he should have explained it better. [Yes, that was part of the problem. What he said about the bill made little sense. But there were huge problems of substance as well.]

He just blamed Bush for most of the staggering federal deficit.

A three year government spending freeze: except for defense, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security excepted. [Except for that? What percent of the real federal budget is left? It also sounds like it will have to kick in after the next "stimulus" spendapalooza.]

He just bashed Bush for the third time: "that's what we did for eight years!"

He wants congress to publish earmark requests on a web page.

Now he is complaining about politicians who criticize other politicians too much. [Gee, I wonder who he thinks is being criticized too much.]

He just accused the Repubs of "just saying no to everything."

He promised to meet monthly with Republicans [that would be a big change versus his past behavior].

[Wow, is this ever boring! He has gone on for almost an hour. How much more of this can I take? I'm simply amazed, once again, to think of all the people who say he is a thrilling orator. We must be from different planets.]

Troops out of Iraq by August. [That would be nice, but we know how good he is at meeting deadlines.]

He pledges to repeal the ban on gays in the military. [That too would be nice, but he has made that promise before.]

He will "secure all nuclear weapons in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists." [Wow, how is he going to perform that miracle? He doesn't say.]

Equal pay for women. Enforcing immigration laws.

[Oh God. Now it's over an hour he's talked. How long oh Lord, how long?]

He ends with a discussion of his political setbacks. He seems to be saying that he is not going to change his policies to be popular.

[Omigod! Omigodomigodomigod! I am so glad this is over! If I ever watch an entire speech by this boremeister again, they will have to pry my eyes open with lidlocks and put in moisturizing drops like Alex in the ludovico technique! Aaaaaaa! Stop it stop it please I beg you! It's not fair!]

Bottom line: To some extent, he did some combination of 1, 2, and 3 (see above). Which was most important? Actually, given that he reaffirmed support for health care and cap and trade, and even at one point seemed to be scolding the Supreme Court -- to its face! -- for letting "the most powerful interests" control elections,* he also seemed to be doing something that was neither 1, 2, nor 3 but to a considerable extent -- nothing! That is, no change. Most commentators assumed that what he needed to do in this speech was give a clear picture of what his regime is going to be all about after the Massachusetts humiliation, that he has to provide focus. If that is so, it was a complete failure. Or, perhaps, he does not think he needs focus or clarity.
Update: See also this.


Anonymous said...

You failed to mention his remarks on the Supreme Court decision, which I missed. I had to do something about 45 minutes into the speech. My observations:

-For the first half hour or so, I felt like I was watching a high school pep rally with the constant applause lines and cheering.

-Biden's big white teeth "Crest Smile" and Pelosi's "Zombie looks" were impressive.

-I saw the Youtube videos of the Supreme Court reaction as the chamber cheered. It had a medeival semblance ala an English Protestant Queen condemming Catholic heretics in public court.

"All the World's a stage..."

Lester Hunt said...

I mentioned the Supreme Court comment briefly in my summary. It didn't catch my attention at the moment it happened, but it may be the most interesting and important thing in my whole speech. My metaphor would be a bully supported by a gang of cheering toadies. Rather alarmingly, this is a case of the executive branch trying to bully the judiciary.

Anonymous said...

What is the factual support for your statement that government workers are "paid more than the rest of us already"? In my profession, law, government lawyers generally make less than lawyers in private practice. Federal district court judges are paid less than first year associates at big law firms.
Moreover, saying that government workers are a "privileged class of expoloiters" borders on the irrational. One might not like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Federal Election Comission, but one would be hard pressed to credibly claim they are exploiting anyone.
Further, in what way is it incorrect to blame the deficit on the previous administration? The day the Bush administration took over from President Clinton in 2001, America enjoyed a $236 billion budget surplus -- with a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. When the Bush administration left office, it handed President Obama a $1.3 trillion deficit -- and projected shortfalls of $8 trillion for the next decade. Moreover, as the Washington Times, no friend to President Obama, pointed out President Obama has gotten more spending cuts through in one year than President Bush did in 8.
In what way was the cheering for this President any different than the cheering President Bush received? As far as I can recall, these speeches have always been pep rallies for the party that supports the president.
Finally, President Obama is not the first president to criticize a Supreme Court decision in his state of the union address. Regan did so in 1988 when he did not like a school prayer ruling.
I get that libertarians don't like the President. But this post is overly shrill.

Anonymous said...

An FDR'esque moment for BHO.

I wasn't pleased with the SC ruling because as it is the electorates' cognitive faculties are constantly bombarded with political spin. MSNBC with it's prime time MatthewsHardBallEdSHowOlbermannMaddow is a 5 hour Democratic Party Infomercial along with FOX's Republican Fair(un)Balanced approach.

Lester Hunt said...

Anon. #2,

The factual basis for my claim that gov't employees are paid more than people in private industry is in the link (follow the further link) in that paragraph. They get almost twice as much on average, if you count benefits as well as salary. Also note that gov't pensions are guaranteed solvent by the taxpayer (who probably doesn't have a pension plan like that and may have none at all.)

See the same link for my explanation as to why state employees are exploiters. (BTW, like you, I am a state employee.)

It occurs to me that the article I link to is actually about federal employees, not gov't in general, so I was making a logical leap there, I admit. But I have seen similar figures for particular states as well, so what I say on this point is at least very plausible.

On the deficit and the national debt: It is true that Bush contributed more to both than any pres. in history, but it is also true that in the short time he has been in office Obama contributed to them at a much faster rate than even Bush did. Here is a cute little video that makes the point vividly:

For Obama to talk about "this deficit" as if it were a static object that he "inherited" is utterly disingenuous.

On the SCOTUS thing, I guess what bothers me most is the folks I called "the toadies" all around the SC justices leaping to their feet and cheering as the justices are being attacked for doing something that, were they actually guilty of it, would be pretty odious.

If Reagan and the congressional Repubs did something genuinely analogous to this, I would certainly have been equally concerned about that. Regan is not my standard for what is right and good.

Anonymous said...

thanks for clarifying on the link. For some reason it was not highlighted when I read the post initially. As for the graph, it poseses two question. Are the wages in question comparing apples to apples, e.g., government lawyer to civilian lawyer?
This report from 2006, indicates that chart is not making that comparison.
Simiarly, this report seeems to suggest that the average government wage for 2009 is about $30,000 less than the chart claims.
I wasn't trying to suggest that Reagan was the model for conducting state of the union addresses. I was simply trying to point out that the reaction to this state of the union address didn't seem any different to me than what happens at every state of the union address. They are all essentially pep rallies for the party supporting the president. If I had my druthers, they would go back to the days when the state of the union was read aloud by a messenger rather than having the president make a speech on primetime.

Matt Olver said...

This is off topic, but you had some great points in the Cap Times article on grade inflation, Lester.

Lester Hunt said...

Thanks. IMO, what I actually said made more sense than what ended up in the paper. They left out the reason I gave why it isn't so terrible that the average grade in music performance, in a typical program, is an A, making it sound like I was saying that, well, bad clarinet-playing won't kill anybody. I don't think that would be a good reason to not mind throwing grading away as a way of distinguishing between job candidates. What I did say was that it is very easy, after a few minutes (or in some cases a few seconds), to tell whether an auditioning candidate can play the clarinet. But how do you tell if someone will be a capable nurse? You need more sources of information for that. And yet, in nursing schools, the average grade is once again an A, making grades useless for that purpose.

Lester Hunt said...


Yes, the study you point to and the one I relied on (the one quoted by CATO) are indeed talking about apples and oranges. The CATO one (from the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis) compares wages across the board for federal civilian workers and for private industry workers, and then compares wages for those two groups plus benefits. Yours only compares wages, and only for selected professions.

The omission of benefits is a big deal, because that is one of the biggest reasons for working for the government (or a university, even a private one). In the BEA graphs, notice that adding benefits to wages only increases their dollar value of a private sector worker's income by 1/5, while doing the same for government workers increases it by 1/2. Wow!

Remember also that many gov't workers, like tenured professors, have lifetime job security, which doesn't even show up on these graphs because it has no obvious dollar value, though it is obviously worth a lot.