The State of the Union is…unsettled
By Lisa Schiffren
Were I advising president Obama on his SOTU tomorrow, I’d would do what partisan political advisors are paid to do: come up with a list of accomplishments – take credit for anything good and extrapolate it out beyond reason; add many rhetorical flourishes and a long list of policies and projects designed to tickle the fancies of his biggest constituent groups. I would have him discuss, in sober tones, the national debt, which no one likes. I’d advise him to sound forceful, but not be too specific about addressing it. I’d claim many benefits from the stimulus, real or otherwise. And I would skirt the problem of ongoing high unemployment by claiming it could be worse. That’s what his advisers advise, I surmise, because he has said all of that since being elected.
The Democratic anti-me I would not resist admonitions to civility and co-operation between the parties, “after Tucson.” There’d be a clever joke about the new seating arrangements. Given the election results, I’d toss a few bones (big, but hollow) across the aisle, though harping on the evils of the deficit would need to count as one of those…because core Obama supporters don’t want to see him surrender to the GOP, no matter what the reality. And you can never tell with those fickle independents. Still, I’d be confident that the mainstream media won’t remind voters that in the end, none of his rhetorical concessions to the other side, in any previous speech, have materialized.
But I am not a Democratic advisor. I am a conservative citizen, of a certain age, who has heard a few too many SOTU speeches. As a rhetorical matter, they’re boring, because it’s hard to put a lot of heart in lists of policies. So please keep it short, or I will simply read it, losing the effect of the President’s dramatic talents. In general President Obama talks too much. He speaks well. But after hundreds of speeches he is overexposed. He gains nothing with the voters who sent all those Democrats packing in November, by dragging this out – even if he delivers a knockout performance. We are tired of his words. And all this build-up, because the press has nothing to write about, isn’t helping. We the people have lives of our own; they are harder than they were, and this political spectacle has gotten old.
As a citizen affected by the economy, the uncertain economic future our children face, the dismal performance of a great many of the institutions upon which we rely, I want to hear a plan to cut debt and grow jobs. Real jobs. Not government jobs.. This requires a list of programs the president is going to cut. Real programs that add up to real money. Plus a few symbolic ones, like NPR. He should do what most Americans are doing: cut the luxuries. Because nice as it is to spend money on the arts, tertiary level social services or esoteric social science research – we can’t afford it.
Tell us how you’re going to make the government services we need, work. Education is always at the top of that list – but we’ve increased spending exponentially in the past 30 years, without much to show. Now what?
Here is a word I don’t want to hear: Investment. All Americans know that you call it “investment” when you want to buy something you can’t justify financially: the McMansion; the fancy education; the state of the art electronics…. that’s how we got here. We should be done with bailouts and “stimulus spending” by any name.
I’d feel better if I believed that Obama understands that high taxes kill jobs, and big spending necessitates high taxes. But I’m not holding my breath. I’d like to hear that he is willing to revisit the health care bill and change the problematic parts. But I need to see that start within two weeks, or it gets him nothing.
I want to hear how well we have done in Iraq; and what the plan is for Afghanistan. I’d like to hear the new, realistic endgame. Because we are not leaving this summer and everyone know it. And what about Pakistan? Important allies or not, why are they still subsidizing our enemies among the Afghans? What is your national security apparatus going to do about it? And Iran? How much weaker can we afford to look – or be?
One last thing. “Can’t we all be get along here?” was sadly funny when Rodney Brown said it, in the course of mass riots. When I hear politicians speak about civility and comity between parties, I want to toss my cookies. We have two parties at such sharp variance because there are two mutually exclusive, competing views of how our country should be governed. That’s good. It means something when voters choose.
For citizens, this hostility is far better than those eras when Congress was a gentlemen’s club where everyone got along, cut deals and horse-traded our taxes and principles away by day, and drank, played poker and went whoring after hours, while Democrats were in control and Republicans were comfortable being submissive. Man up, guys. Sit on your own side and don’t be afraid to ‘boo.’. If you cannot see how ridiculous and adolescent this mixed seating gimmick is, imagine what a moderately articulate member of any party in the House of Commons would say about having other party seat mates, let alone ‘dates.’ Blush.
I am very sorry that a non-political lunatic with a long history of imbalance shot a congresswoman two weeks ago. She sounds like a great person and I, like 99.9% of the nation, wish her a speedy recovery. But that incident had no wider significance. It was not political. And it is not a reason for the winners of the recent election to embrace those whose political actions were soundly rejected. And it is sickening to see national leaders attempt to use it for political gain. So I don’t want to see Rep. Gifford’s doctors trotted out for show or hear her extolled as an icon. She is a victim. It has no greater meaning.
I am pretty sure that the president’s speech will disregard absolutely everything I have just written, plus all the other stuff I might have added. Whatever he says, I’m entirely sure he’ll just go on doing all of the lefty things an entire generation of “progs” has dreamed about, till he’s thrown out on his ear, a moment that can’t come too soon.
Lisa Schiffren, who formerly wrote speeches for Vice President Dan Quayle, is a freelance speechwriter in New York City.