Now, let me preface this piece by saying I did not watch the State Of The Union address last night. I prefer reading the transcript. I can't abide the canned applause, and watching half of Congress look at their watches while the other half whoops and hollers.
And it doesn't matter: Republican or Democrat, no one is truly unifying the Congress behind a vision or goal. Even talk about Osama bin Laden's liquidation was only going to draw tepid polite applause from the Republicans, which is a goddamned shame.
A couple of immediate reactions:
1) When you juxtapose this passage:
We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
...with revelations of the tax "burden" of erstwhile Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, and the tepid Republican rebuttal by Mitch Daniels of:
That means a dramatically simpler tax system of fewer loopholes and lower rates...No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others.
...you begin to understand the deep hole Republicans have dug for themselves.
2) Others have said it, but I believe President Obama laid out a strong case for his re-election last night. The parts about rewarding offshoring while penalizing those who keep jobs in America...you listening, Mitt? Because that was a shot across your bow.
3) It's twenty years too late, but it was good to hear Obama talk about retooling and retraining blue collar factory workers. Bill Clinton proposed this and was nearly laughed out of Congress for it. And now we have what we have. Not everyone can go to college, and not everyone wants to wait tables or run foreigners on tourist jaunts. We need to find work for people who are good with their hands, too.
4) Too, it was nice to hear Obama talk about community colleges. Too often, we view them as way stations for the derelict, those who need any college degree because of job requirements and who sit in boring lectures from derelict subprime professors and assistant professors who would be better employed on the front lines in Afghanistan than molding even mature minds.
So it was really important that Obama raised community colleges as a conduit for these retraining programs.
5) The idea that a student should stay in high school until they turn 18 or graduate is almost, almost, a noble one. I have two caveats, however. First, there ought to be an emphasis on true vocational training possibilities. Sure, nearly every large city has an automotive high school, some have avionics even, and many rural communities have agricultural programs. So how about a better blending of these and include what are rapidly becoming blue collar technological jobs, like using robotics in manufacturing and farming? A line worker ought to know and understand a little about the machines they are using. They are tools no different than a spanner or milking stool. Second, this requirement ought not to be an excuse to let bad students linger in a classroom with a bored teacher looking at his watch all day. Here's where, believe it or not, Newt Gingrich's concept of students working in a school could come into play. But only at the high school level.
6) His tough-yet-rational stance on immigration reform was a clever ploy. Yes, he's been indubitably tough on attempts to illegally cross our borders, but his offer of a carrot in the form of fast-tracking those already here who are contributing to society is a beautiful way of capturing the Hispanic vote.
7) Obama's twin commitments to the energy industry (I'm not crazy about the commitment to fracking and offshore oil and gas, but the rest was juicy) and to infrastructure jobs to stimulate the economy was a pretty interesting juxtaposition of what seemed to be two unrelated topics, yet he managed to mesh them together as an economic relief package for the near-term future.
8) The joke about spilled milk? Awkward and stupid, yet it showed a common touch so it was probably one of those "Uncle Fred makes a dumb joke" moments: you rolled your eyes and laughed, but got the point.
9) And of course, the centerpiece of the speech was the announcement of the Federal Financial Crimes Unit and the directive to the attorney general to go after the banks. It might be a little too little, but its not too little, to be sure.