Saturday, January 23, 2016

State of the Union: Not As Bad As They'd Have You Believe.

This past Tuesday, President Barack Obama enraged the American right wing by going on national television and pointing out that the United States of America isn’t the barren, benighted hellscape of economic misery and brutal political repression that they make it out to be.
After being introduced by Paul Ryan, the reluctant speaker of the House, the president began his final State of the Union address by talking about the things that have gone right on his watch:
We’ve recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. Our automakers have had a better year than any year in their history. Millions more Americans have access to needed health care they weren’t previously able to get. Millions more Americans than before are “able to marry the person they love.” And, he said with a grin, “gas under two dollars ain’t bad either.”
The president even praised the reluctant speaker for not shutting the government down. The RS’s response was to sit there, stone-faced, as he did for most of the speech.
This may have seemed a trifle ungracious, but I just figured that the RS was trying to get his mojo back with the Teahadists who have been shrieking for his head since he declined to destroy the country in the name of saving it.
Actually, “stone-faced” was pretty much the entire GOP response during the speech. Republicans wouldn’t even applaud the usually dependable crowd pleaser about how “the United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.” They wouldn’t applaud the president saying we need to “hunt ISIS down and destroy them.”
They wouldn’t even applaud a proposal for a massive effort to cure cancer. Is the GOP so anti-Obama that they’ve actually become pro-cancer? I’m not saying they are, mind you, but as the folks at Fox News say, it “raises questions.”
Pessimism and doomsaying, it seems, have become the Republican brand. Their front- runner’s latest book is even called “Crippled America,” and his campaign theme is “America is losing everywhere.” (Funny, I remember when such talk was regarded as treason.)
Over the last seven years, the right has gone from sneering, “What has Obama accomplished?” to bitterly attempting to downplay everything he actually has accomplished.
They’ve held dozens of totally symbolic votes, for instance, to repeal Obamacare, that “job-killing takeover of the health care system” that didn’t take anything over and, judging from the low unemployment rate, doesn’t seem to have killed very many jobs.
There have been so many successful Democratic initiatives described as “job killers” that it’s a miracle anyone’s working at all, if the Republicans are to be believed. (Let me just suggest that perhaps they’re not.)
At least in the short run, pessimism appears to be good marketing. Gloom and doom seem to be striking a chord among far too many Americans.
A startling Pew Research study from last year shows that whoever they are — old or young, black or white, Republican or Democrat — more Americans will tell you that their side is losing than will tell you they’re winning. Another poll last year found that 75 percent of the Americans polled said, “The American dream is suffering.”
But in the long term, Americans are not born pessimists. In the second poll I just cited, fully 72 percent of the people who said the American Dream is “suffering” said they themselves were happy with their own lives and were either “living the American Dream or expect to.” That’s extraordinary.
If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that the person who brings us the most hope and the most optimistic view of America is the one we eventually choose to lead us. Remember, if you will, Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Remember Clinton’s “I still believe in a place called Hope.” Remember George Dubbya’s “A More Hopeful America.” And of course, remember Obama’s “Hope and Change.”
Those phrases were (and still are) widely mocked — by the people who lost to the candidates who embraced them. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates in the upcoming electoral slugfest would do well to remember that.
When the president ends his speech by saying, “I stand here confident that the state of our Union is strong,” and your only answer is, “Oh, no, it’s not,” then you are not, my friend, pursuing a winning strategy. Nor, more important, are you pursuing one that will lead to a better America.