Each year I try to write on the SotU (2010, 2011). I know they are preposterously scripted, usually forgettable, and almost meaningless as a guide for the upcoming policy season/budget debate. But the political scientist in me thinks that showing the whole panorama of democratic government in one room is hugely instructive for the both US citizenry and for foreigners interested in the US, as well as a great example of how democracies differ from oligarchies and dictatorships with their sycophantic, faux ‘legislatures.’ Let’s hope that somewhere some Chinese, or Burmese, or Syrians can see this and dream that one day they too can … play their own SotU drinking game.
Further the SotU’s often give insight into the presidential mind (however distorted by focus groups) – what he thinks is important or not, ideal preferences for the country, American ‘exceptionalism,’ etc. In this vein, George W Bush’s 2005 SotU was easily the most important of my lifetime, as W laid out a soaring and terrifying image of the US a global democratic revisionist prepared to war for freedom indefinitely. It scared the pants off the country and the planet, but that in itself made it a major, frightening moment in the W presidency. So I still think we should watch them. But, I will grant that you should probably play one of those drinking games while you’re at it.
1. Domestic’s not my area, but I have to agree with Sullivan that this was just a grab bag of bleh. Instead of the big issues like deficit control, entitlement restraint, broad tax hikes (to actually pay for the government we want), defense spending control, etc., it was a bunch of populist/protectionist tax alterations that, as Sullivan notes, will make the tax code even more impenetrable than it is. Isn’t there pretty much a national consensus now that the tax code needs to be simplified? And the protectionism masquerading as ‘bringing jobs home’ was ridiculous – an unworkable tangle of new law, more government, more lawsuits at the WTO. That’s the last thing the world economy needs in the great recession, and you know MNCs will fight this stuff tooth and nail, move resources even faster, relocate, lawyer up like hell to find the loopholes, etc. If you are one of those conspiracy theorists looking for socialism from Obama, you finally got some evidence. This verged toward old school Democrats-from-the-70s industrial policy.
2. What a lame sop to manufacturing. I understand why, and part of me appreciates it. I’m from Cleveland; I have seen lots of small towns in Ohio get hammered by globalization and contraction of manufacturing (it can be fairly depressing to drive around the state). For decades, I have seen Cleveland slip and slip and slip; the city’s east side is so violent now. But honestly, this is the sort of stuff politicians always say to Ohio and the Midwest when elections come up. Not only is it bad economics (hold that thought), but, as Michael Lind and Thomas Frank have pointed out for years, the Midwest has never seen a big industrial turn-around despite the bi-annual pandering we get as swing-states. The first half felt more like campaign speech on my old street to get the neighborhood out to vote for Democrats, because this is the type of stuff the Ohio Democratic Party has been saying as long as I can remember. I imagine other midwestern listeners would think the same, but this was pretty much the ODP’s playbook, and Obama even mentioned Cleveland.
Part two will go up in two days
Cross-posted at the Duck of Minerva.