Saturday, January 30, 2010

Acronym Time! The SOTU and Q&A

I have been called a "glass half full" person, and I rather like that. But perhaps what I am even more is a devil's advocate. When liberals were dumping on Obama, I pointed out reasons to support him. Now in the wake of a powerful SOTU speech and wrangling of House Republicans, while we're still high on the fumes....

Would you like a moment to compose yourself?

...I'm going to address some things I wanted to see in the speech and didn't.

--What he said: "...each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith."
He also tied much of his agenda to elevating or keeping the U.S. in a world-leading position.

In addition, I wanted to hear him say he was willing to get personal, something like, "if you or your hired lobbyists are standing in the way of progress, then you are an anchor holding America back from being great, and I will call you out. Coal, oil, health insurers, I don't care how long you have been in business or how much money you have, if you are not helping us build the future, if you are fixated on keeping things the way they were, then you are a problem for all Americans, and I will identify you by name."

In other words, I want to bring more public pressure on the obstructionists as a tool to divide and conquer the opposition. Friday was a good start in doing this. I love seeing people reap the full benefit of their own words and actions, good or bad. But so many of the people who need to see this kind of exchange can't be bothered to watch it. How will he reach them?

--In talking about financial reform, Obama said he doesn't want to punish banks. Ok. But right after that, he says that the House has already passed reform and the lobbyists are trying to kill it. So, who does he think is paying the lobbyists? And by saying he doesn't want to punish banks, isn't he tying his own hands to fight back, or at least arming the other side for retaliation against whatever he does?

--He takes "his share of the blame" for not explaining health care, then asks for support for "the plan we've proposed" - never explaining what that is or how he wants it passed. So if people want to support his plan, what do they do? Demand passage of the House bill? The Senate bill? A patch? Something new in reconciliation? Some combination? You see the problem. He had our attention. This was the time to hit the bullet points.

--His call to action on national security was "...let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who's tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values." Again, long on rhetoric, short on actual action items.

In this speech, and especially in the Q and A with Republicans on Friday, the word "parental" kept appearing to describe his demeanor (though on Friday he was more Father Flanagan than Ward Cleaver). One of the best parenting tips I ever heard says that parents spend too much time dwelling on the bad and not enough time turning kids toward good behavior. So instead of yelling "don't" or "stop," a parent should say "here, try it this way instead."

This "try it this way instead" is what I don't see enough of as he addresses Congress. As he addressed the Republicans Friday, I heard something like, "no, that's not what I'm thinking, but keep guessing." That just sounds like game-playing. Is he trying to wear them down? Tame them? Or just annoy them?

Don't get me wrong. Overall, I love his tough tone and the relentless refusal to pander, either to Republicans or to voters. I love the call to progress and rational problem-solving. I love the direction this is going. I just wish we had some clearer signposts.

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