The State of the Union: Obama Shares Feelings and John Boehner Claps Reluctantly

Last night President Obama, wearing a tie that I personally think outshone either John Boehner’s or Joe Biden’s, addressed the nation and discussed where it’s been for the last year, and where it’s going in the year ahead. (Sidenote: Boehner’s facial expression throughout the address leads one to believe that his pet gerbil may have died shortly beforehand, or perhaps that he was passing a kidney stone.) It’s theoretically possible that this could be Obama’s last State of the Union if he loses the election in November; as such, it also functioned as an advertisement for him continuing his presidency. Sort of an “If This Was Still Your President, You’d Be Doing This Stuff” billboard.

While the SOTUS included requisite appeals for gratitude to our troops and an extended reminder of Osama bin Laden’s death that seemed like it was aimed at proponents of the war on terror, it also talked at great length about relief for teachers, students, and homeowners, as well as a series of references to “everyone playing by the same rules” that seemed to call out to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

A quick recap:

+ The economy is getting better, and we’re working on the problems that caused the recession. “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like that never happens again.” Part of fixing the economy is keeping jobs in America. “Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.”

+ Education! That includes encouraging people to get more training in science and technology, give schools the resources to get and keep good teachers, stop interest rates on student loans from doubling, and reward universities that keep tuition down (while punishing those who don’t). Obama also wants to make it mandatory to attend high school until age 18 or graduation.

+ Immigration reform and the DREAM Act — while he didn’t actually say the words “DREAM Act,” he did talk about how people who came to the country as children and want to get an education and contribute to the nation should be provided with a path to citizenship.

+ Energy! Mostly he really wants to develop natural gas as an energy source, largely so we rely less on foreign oil. Also, renewable energy use! That sounds like a good thing, right? Obama has promised to ” allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes” and also says that the Department of Defense is making one of the “largest commitments to clean energy in history” by purchasing a lot of it.

+ Hey homeowners this one’s for you: in the most late-night-TV-commercial moment of the address, Obama promised that you can “save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” That sounds neat!

+ Military! “Yes, the world is changing; no, we can’t control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs – and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way. That’s why, working with our military leaders, I have proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget. To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I have already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing danger of cyber-threats.”

+ Gays! Just kidding he mostly only mentioned us sort of in passing when he talked about the military and how “When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight.” Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly gay member of the Air Force, did sit with the First Lady during the address, though!

Last but not least, the GIANT AMORPHOUS CONTROVERSIAL GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Occupy Wall Street! While I do not believe the President said those words at any point exactly (although he does say “98%”, which, is that an intentional joke?), here are some words he did say:

“I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules… So if you’re a big bank or financial institution, you are no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits. You’re required to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail – because the rest of us aren’t bailing you out ever again. And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices are over… We will also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments. Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender… So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count. And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis…

…we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief. Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense… I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad – and it seems to get worse every year. Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that.”

 While this stops short of, say, “picking a side,” Obama does choose his State of the Union address, one of the most important interactions with the American people he’ll have all year, to come down firmly on the side of higher taxes for the wealthy and place the blame on Wall Street for a variety of national problems.  Has the Occupy movement gained enough momentum (or at least sympathy) that Obama’s move will endear him to voters? Unclear as of right now! It has been called a “populist challenge” at least once by now, however, so there’s that.

The rest of the address largely discussed similarities between the character of the United States with the bravery of soldiers, Osama bin Laden’s death, and the American flag. If you’d like to read a full transcript, complete with a comments section, the internet is your oyster. Overall, though, it would seem that Obama is promising us a foreseeable future that’s in keeping with his past performance — that of a moderate with a commitment to bipartisanship, who does’t necessarily espouse liberalism but is acutely aware of what the people are going through. Romney told his supporters that “the detachment between reality and what he says is so extraordinary, I was just shaking my head at the TV last night.” Conveniently, it was also revealed this week that Romney and his wife made $40 million in income over the last two years,  and were taxed on a significantly lower percentage of their income than they would have been in a lower tax income bracket. He went on to accuse Obama of hypocrisy and disingenuousness. Between that and the State of the Union, you have what I suspect is a fairly accurate picture of the next ten months or so.


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internrachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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26 Comments

  1. Oh man, I was so worried when he started talking about offshore drilling and natural gas harvesting, but then he started talking about doing it safely AND making companies disclose every single chemical they use, so I feel slightly better about it.

    I also really enjoyed giggling through the Republican rebuttal, because the gentleman who gave the rebuttal (Indiana governor Mitch Daniels) kept essentially paraphrasing President Obama but making it sound like they were not good things. Extraordinary.

    I’d like to point out too, how nice it is to watch someone who is a good public speaker, unlike former President W.

  2. I’m sorry, but I call shenanigans.

    Obama’s policies have been almost identical to those of our former president. Is that what we’re calling a moderate these days? Many point to the “difficult climate” for the president’s wavering, despite the fact that our former president made it work in a “tough Congress,” passing the horrendous legislation some people are hoping our current president will repeal. But will he? Can he?

    Well, let me remind you that many of the “+” points referred to in this article were the same points being promised to us in 2008. How many of those did we see movement on? Why haven’t we seen movement? Could it be because the financial backers who control Obama’s reelection campaign wouldn’t allow for policies to be written and passed that would hurt their interest in maintaining their soaring corporate profits?

    This was a blatant campaign speech full of more empty promises. I’d like some change I can believe in and I doubt it’ll come through the White House.

    • Or if you prefer it with profanity: http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/

      Ways in which Obama has concretely made my life better:
      -I have health insurance til I turn 26!
      -My grandparents have Medicaid! And the costs of their prescriptions is less
      -Kept Yosemite National Park(my home) and all other NPs from shutting down(and in fact increased their funding by 10%)

      Ways in which Obama has helped TeamStraddle:
      -extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees
      -appointed more openly gay officials than any other POTUS
      -expanded hate crime laws to include sexual orientation
      -supported the repeal of DOMA
      -signed the repeal of DADT

      There are always lots of empty promises, but Obama has made a lot of concrete change and there are many, many more examples to back this up.

      • Okay, I’ll play.

        – Obama has extended tax breaks on paychecks – effectively signaling the end of Social Security.
        – He has only just now begun to bring troops home from Afghanistan, while
        – Extending military programs in Libya and the rest of the Middle East
        – He signed into law a bill that would call for the indefinite detention of citizens deemed “domestic terrorists”
        – He opened up oil reserves in the United States, continuing the destructing of the environment, including
        – Encouraging the practice of fracking

        – DADT does not apply to trans people, and only signals that poor gay people, just like poor straight people, can go be slaughtered for their countrty
        – As a matter of fact, none of the legislation you cited is relevant to trans people. Not DOMA. Not hate crimes legislation. Not extended benefits.

        Yes, health care is very nice. I am glad I have it. However, I am fortunate because my state (Massachusetts) forces me to have it. Many people are not so lucky, or cannot afford the health insurance offered to them. It’s too bad that his legislation did nothing to curb the ridiculous profit motives the health insurance companies currently require, thus sucking the middle-class consumer (not to mention working class or low-income people) dry. My point is that all of these “victories” you’ve cited are minor, at best, and leave the larger system of militarism, racism, and capitalism untouched. Yes, I did just paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.

        And for the record, I’ve seen the website. The swearing version is more amusing.

    • But realistically who would you vote for instead? Romney? Santorum, (eek) Ron Paul? It’s pretty unrealistic that any Democrat would be strong enough to challenge Obama as the incumbent president and just because he’s…Obama (he’s all shiny dude).

      It looks like Obama vs whichever red tied ridiculous pants the conservatives choose. Regardless of how you feel about empty promises, just the fact that he may fulfill them in light of the other options is worth it to me.

  3. ‘We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.’

    liberty? rights and dignity? REALLY PAPI REALLY? there are still nearly 200 prisoners at Gitmo and nearly 700 at Bagram, about 3 of whom have EVER been formally charged or offered a lawyer.

    my mouth flopped open like a glove puppet without a hand inside when i read this shit.

  4. Whatever drugs Boehner was on last night, which enabled him to stare unblinking at the back of Obama’s head with that glazed-out slightly bitter stare for the entire duration of the speech, they looked like they were working.

  5. Obama put on his bossy pants last night, and I loved it!

    One of my favorite Obama vs. Daniels’ differences: Obama mentioned the wage gap between men and women twice as something that is damaging our country. The Republican dude said it was a tragedy that 1 in 5 men “of prime working age” is out of work [and neglected to mention most of those men are of color who lack access to quality education and a million other supports that help most of the Republican middle class succeed]. Obama has disappointed me occasionally, but at least he stands for things I believe in fighting for.

  6. It was a small comment and sort of buried under so many good ideas, but I was impressed by his offer of helping people on unemployment get their GEDs. Too many people in this country haven’t graduated High School.
    In the SC debate, Gingrich sneered at extending unemployment compensation and said, “Now the fact is, 99 weeks is an associate degree.” Because everyone knows that when you’re out of work and on unemployment with a family to feed, you’ve got plenty of money to spend on schooling. Or, maybe he’s missed the memo that a lot of people can’t find work even with college and graduate.
    The US has to support a failing education system if it wants to keep up with the rest of the world.

  7. This pretty much seals the deal. Obama (supposedly) for the America public while you got the Republican GOP (definitely) for rich, white American. I think I’m going to start making my “OBAMA WON Y’ALL” shirt for November 2012 now.

  8. I like Obama. Do I like everything he has to say? No. (The words “off-shore drilling” still give me the heebie jeebies.) But overall I think he has a lot of good ideas, and I’m proud to call him my President.

  9. I never know what to make of these addresses. I understand it’s important to stay informed about the basic outline of my president’s plan for the country I live in, and it’s always pretty cool watching them, because the man gives speeches like he was born to do it, but I always end up feeling like I’m just being set up for disappointment.

    Most of what he talked about doing sounded great. How much of any of it will come to pass, though? I understand that the responsibility doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders (not nearly), but everything’s just such a mess. I don’t see how any of it’s going to get fixed. It feels exhausting to watch. I’m only nineteen, am I even allowed to be this worn out by politics yet?

    /a lot of feelings

    • This is pretty much exactly how I feel. I’m 23 and I’ve been worn out by politics for years–actually, probably since I was 19 and Eliot Spitzer (former Governor of New York) totally let me down.

      No matter how badly I want to believe in Obama–and I do, sort of–I really can’t trust any politician at all. The fact that he keeps bringing up bin Laden’s death is beginning to remind me of how Bush constantly brought up 9/11.

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