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The State of the Dis-Union

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address Thursday night, and barring the remote possibility that those quadrennial conspiracy theories about a presidential coup at long last prove true it will be his last. The speech marks a point in history when just a few weeks more than a year a left until the end of the Obama error, there is still some faint hope left that at least the next four years after that will be at least somewhat better, and we are glad of such small favors. Everything else about the speech, alas, did little to hearten to us about the true state of the Union.
The speech began with a promise to be brief, which of course was not kept, and went downhill from there. Without any major policy initiatives or other big ideas to announce, and with no hope of getting anything that he might have thought of past the Republican-dominated Congress he has brought into being, Obama mostly used the occasion of his last prime-time network special to make the case that he truly is the Messiah that his post-religious mania of a campaign in ’08 promised. He cited the seemingly healthy unemployment rate of 5 percent but neglected to mention that the number of working age Americans actually working is at a 38-year-low and getting lower, or that the thousand points the Dow Jones averages have already shed in this still-new year has everybody spooked that it’s going to get worse yet, and we doubt he convinced any of his scant viewership here in flyover country that happy days are here again.
There was talk of how deficits have been cut in half since the record-setting first years of his administration under a compliant Democrat-controlled Congress, but not talk of the $8 trillion in debt that has been racked up in his seven years. He mentioned the supposed millions of Americans who now have health insurance under Obamacare, but he didn’t mention how many of them are getting better health care under the Medicaid program they’ve wound up with, or how much more the rest of the country is paying for their premiums, or that randy younger hipsters are forbidden to purchase the catastrophic plans that would have been their best bet in a free market system and that celibate nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage to subsidize those young hipsters’ appalling sex lives, and that it all seems destined for the long-predicted death spiral of fiscal insolvency, and that at this point relatively few Americans are any longer sold on Obamacare.

There were the Reagan-esque uses of specially invited heroes, with this the honorific chair being filled by one of those pitiable Syrian refugees, presumably a more a savory character than the Syrian refugees who have been implicated in a number of gang rapes in western cities in past weeks, and an empty chair for the victims of National Rifle Association-inspired gun violence, but none for those killed in Benghazi or the Chicago’s gang districts, and we doubt anyone will be persuaded by that.

There’s that breakthrough deal with Iran to allow it regional hegemony and apocalyptic nuclear status anytime it wishes, along with a $150 billion signing bonus, but that went unmentioned because of Obama’s usual bad timing. His embarrassing dismissal of the Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism just before it gained control of an Indiana-sized territory, and his premature declaration that the terror group was “contained” just before it launched deadly attacks against Russian airliners and Parisian rock ‘n’ roll fans and the social services workers of San Bernardino, apparently kept him from touting his touting his peace breakthrough with Iran just hours after that country took 10 American sailors hostage. He did blather on about those crazy Republicans who seem to think that Islam might have something to do with the 1,400-year-old clash between Islam and the once Judeo-Christian West, but we sense that even Obama realizes that nobody out there in flyover country is still buying that. There was also something about Vice President Joe Biden curing cancer with another moonshot, but we’ll skeptically await the results.
The most striking part of the speech by far was Obama’s uncharacteristically humble concern about the political rhetoric that has resulted from his seven years in office and the year of campaigning that preceded it. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency,” he shockingly said, “that the rancor and suspicions between the parties has gotten worse than better. There’s no doubt that a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying better so long as I hold this office.” There’s some uncertainty as to whether he was referring to the Republican or Democratic Roosevelt, but in either case it’s a touching use of the old humble bit. It certainly represents an improvement over telling his loyal opposition that they can still be involved in government so long as they “sit in the back of bus,” or advising his Latino supporters to “punish their enemies,” or charging that his opponents want dirty air and water and what’s worst for everybody, or any of the similar rhetoric that has characterized the last eight years of Obama’s national prominence, but we’ll have to await the results of that promise as well. We don’t doubt that our president regrets that his “get in their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” style of rhetoric that has suddenly allowed a bumptious billionaire and sudden Republican to employ equally harsh and ad hominem rhetoric against the status quo that Obama insists is so comfortable. Obama might have been grousing at least in part about the more honest self-described Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is currently gaining ground in the Democratic Party’s presidential race by admitting those dire work force participation rates and other glum economic realities and proposing even kookier solutions, but in any case he at least forced to concede that is legendary oratorical gifts have not proved adequate to the moment.
There’s another year and a few weeks left of America’s enemies seizing on the mont to advance the evil plans, and so far it doesn’t look like a roaring year for the economy, and even Obama is meekly conceding that the public discussion he has dominated over the past eight years about what to do about it it is likely to yield any solutions, and we are left with a less sanguine assessment of the state of the Union than our president can offer.

— Bud Norman

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The Devil and Sen. Ted Cruz

Judging by the adjectives they’re lately resorting to, many liberals suddenly seem quite fearful that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might win the Republican presidential nomination. All the panicked comments that follow any story in the respectable press about Cruz’ recent rise in the polls are calling him”worse than Donald Trump,” which seems to be the most damning slur they can think of, and New York Times columnist David Brooks and Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn have reached one step further to describe Cruz as “satanic.”
To be fair to Brooks, he did only say during an appearance on the Public Broadcasting System’s “Newshour” that Cruz had a “dark and satanic tone” to his campaign rhetoric, and we’ll assume that was meant in the nicest way possible, but still, it seems rather harsh. Corn doubled down on the description, though, noting with obvious horror that “If you go to a speech from his dad, who is a pastor, evangelical, it actually is satanic. He — I watched a speech in which he said Satan was behind the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.” At that point Brooks laughingly said “Well, I withdraw the Satanic from Ted Cruz,” Corn kept up the yucks that were going all around by saying “You’re thinking that it’s political, but sometimes, it’s literal,” and Brooks showed off his fancy education by backing off to the term “Mephistophelian,” which as we understand the term at least demotes Cruz to being merely demonic. In any case, an average viewer of the taxpayer-subsidized PBS “Newshour” would come away with a general impression that all the smarts folks agree Cruz is, at the very least, evil.
Brooks didn’t offer any examples of the “ugly” and “combative” and “angry” and “apocalyptic” language that he attributes to Cruz, but we’re sure he could come up with plenty of quotes that would suit his purposes. Cruz does frankly discuss economic conditions and social trends that are unavoidably ugly, he has used Patton-esque language to explain how he would deal with the Islamic State, and except for his Princeton and Harvard Law School degrees he’s never done anything to placate the likes of Brooks. Although he still retains a reputation as conservative-by-New-York-Times-standards, Brooks is still the same fellow who was so taken with the perfect crease in candidate Barack Obama’s that he predicted the clothes horse would prove a great president, and he really needs to get out of Manhattan more often. The people out here in flyover country are plenty angry themselves, and they’re obviously looking for somebody combative, and at this point even the most apocalyptic language doesn’t seem so far-fetched. That’s the language used by the Islamic State that Cruz speaks so harshly about, and by the Iranian government that the present administration is so naively dealing with, and by now much of the public has noticed that the more nuanced sorts of responses don’t seem to be working.
Compared to the head-chopping antics of America’s sworn enemies, the fact that Cruz’ father is — gasp! — an evangelical pastor who hews to the traditional Judeo-Christian views regarding homosexuality, which have grown quite tolerant in recent decades but still won’t go so far as to approve of society’s imprimatur on the practice, is not likely to strike most folks outside the more elite newsrooms as particularly offensive. That Cruz’ father would attribute something evil to the influence of Satan will also prove unsurprising to anyone with a basic understanding of Jewish and Christian and even the more fashionable faith of Islam, and only at such hippie rags as Mother Jones and The New York Times does anyone consider this explicitly anti-Satan stance is somehow “satanic” or even “Mephistophelian.”
The desperate resort to such pejoratives suggests a growing fear in elite newsrooms that Cruz might just be gaining on Donald Trump, and that Cruz is the even worse Republican nominee because he might not be so easily beatable by whatever compromised candidate the Democrats come up with. Brooks worriedly admitted in that “Newshour” that Cruz is “making headway,” Trump has “ceilinged out,” and that the evangelical-dominated Republican caucus in Iowa will give the Ivy League-educated yet still an evangelical pastor’s son a season-opening victory over the thrice-married casino mogul and reality television show star. Thus the big media guns that were once aimed at Trump are now sighted on Cruz, who has been upgraded to “satanic,” which even Trump never endured, not even from such rock-ribbed Republicans as us, but we expect the barrage to do Cruz more good than harm.
Given the ugly and angry and combative and downright apocalyptic mood of the Republican primary electorate, the disapproval of the polite press can only bolster Cruz’ appeal and his antiestablishment credentials. Both the Democratic and Republican “establishments,” and especially the perfect merging of them in the form of the Obama-supporting but supposedly conservative Brooks, loathe Cruz not only because he’s an unapologetic conservative but because he’s proved willing to engage in some government shutdown brinksmanship with the Obama administration in defense of his principles. The more the liberal press tries to emphasize this sort of cowboy craziness, the more it will rally the still-undecided conservative media to his cause and perhaps even impress some of those Trump supporters who have supposed that his daring “tweets” show that “at least he’s willing to fight.” Trump has made much of his hard-earned reputation as a tough negotiator, and as someone who has annoyed the highest levels of the Republican party, but if Cruz comes across in the liberal media as worse than Trump in these regards he’ll come across as better to some Republican voters.
As of now Cruz is less well known and thus better-liked than either Trump or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, but then he’s just now getting the satanic slurs. By the time the more polite press get done with him he might seem as ridiculous as Trump, or even as Satanic as Hillary Clinton or as out-of-the-mainstream as any socialist the Democrats might otherwise wind up with, but by then the more polite press will have no idea what the people are looking for.

— Bud Norman