Why the State of the Union Leaves Me Depressed

I mean both the speech and the actual state. Amanda Marcotte wrote something that resonated with me:

But we’re a nation that’s given up. At the end of the day, we’re a country where people will circle a parking lot for 15 minutes to avoid 2 more minutes of walking. Facing up to that sort of thing while making public policy requires spine, and that’s something we’ve got on short supply. So, instead we concede the argument and let the worst instincts of the country take over, while kicking the hippies that have the nerve to want something better.
Sometimes I feel like America is just in a holding pattern. We’re basically waiting for all the people who are still bitter about modernity to pass away in large enough numbers that those of us willing to move into the future can actually capture the electorate. I never felt that so keenly as listening to Obama speak last night. It’s like living in a house where a cantankerous patriarch won’t let you fix anything up or clean anything, and you’re sitting around watching the house fall apart while waiting for him to die. (Vague memories of “The Secret Garden” surface.) And that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on, right down to our crumbling infrastructure and cannibalistic economy. The problem with this is that not cleaning up the house means that we’re seeping poison into the air, and that may not be something we can clean up when we get the signal to go ahead and actually start fixing things.

It encapsulates my general frustration that many of the solutions to our problems are pretty straightforward, not to mention obvious, but our political system is utterly incapable of dealing with them. One reason is that the best–or at least the slight better–lack intensity (italics mine):

I sat in on a briefing yesterday where various “senior administration officials” explained the theory behind the State of the Union. When they were asked about shifting their focus to the future when the economy was so bad in the present, they explained that they got pretty much everything they thought they could get — and, in fact, more than they thought they could get — in the tax-cut deal, and it was time to let that work. Left unsaid is that they can’t get anything more out of a Republican House, and so there’s little point in begging.

It’s not clear to me, at this point, what exactly the administration has to lose by not fighting. Are we still ‘keeping the powder dry‘? Digby offers one explanation for why the Administration refuses to fight:

From what I can tell this is working for the President. I would guess that the country is sick of bad news and just wants more than anything to believe that the President can end all this and that we can get back to the way things were. But psychologically we are starting to adjust to this new normal and that new normal is not good for the middle and working class of this country. (The poor are so screwed they don’t even merit discussion.) In fact, it’s devastating and it’s all happening to benefit the ever more powerful top two percent.

That was my emotional take on the State of the Union address: people just wanted a ‘feel good’ speech, the political equivalent of a summertime feel-good movie. It’s as if people are so shellshocked by the economy and the rightwing strategy of demonization that they just want soothing noises.
So much for the can-do nation. Welcome to the 21st century version of malaise.

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2 Responses to Why the State of the Union Leaves Me Depressed

  1. scathew says:

    Nice job articulating the underlying emotion here.
    Then again, going with your point that Obama should be viewed as the “opposition”, I don’t think we should take at face value that it’s “all the president can do” or even that he believes that.
    If he actually represented the values he claims (or more particularly, claimed) then he should be creating quite a ruckus right now. He would be putting forward and fighting for legislation that would not only make a difference but pissing a lot of people off – even if it required dying on the sword for it.
    Outside of civil rights, which are just a mess under Obama (and a bold face contradiction to his pre-election rhetoric), this is my biggest beef with those who continue to support Obama. I get the argument that he’s “done as best as he could,” but it has in my mind a fatal flaw:
    He has shown us zero evidence of actually risking failure.
    If I actually saw legislation hit Congress that hadn’t been “pre-negotiated” (or perhaps, was born uncontroversial), then I might believe in his character here. But from what I see he’s either not willing to fight for what he claims, or he’s lying and never cared about what he claimed in the first place.
    Neither reflect very well on the president, and neither deserve progressive’s support.

  2. Wow says:

    “It’s not clear to me, at this point, what exactly the administration has to lose by not fighting.”
    Fight the republicans and you’re going to get trashed by the media since the overton window has moved so far to the right that the mainstream is far right and even moderate left-wing politics considered extreme. Mostly, IMO, because of the false balance and the screed that you MUST compromise by the milquetoast of the leftie brigade.
    Sometimes a compromise is NOT the answer.
    So fight and be painted the nasty bad guy or give in and be reviled by the sidelined moderate pundits.
    scathew has nailed it with: He has shown us zero evidence of actually risking failure.
    He talks a good talk but at best leaves it to people who don’t want change to do the work and doesn’t want to exclude ANYONE, even if justified because “he’s the good guy”.
    Mind you, look at Franken. Even when people are agreeing with him 100%, they STILL bad-mouth him and say he’s a fool or extreme or unelectable.
    Why? Because he’s not willing to compromise when it’s not worth compromising AND he shows up the right wing, the established figures and Obama’s own fifth columnists with the withering scorn they have actively earned.
    Which is rude!
    (PS see how many people proclaim that they’d agree with the IPCC and AGW but the proponents are just so rude to the skeptical community… If they are genuine, they are willing to let the earth burn just so they can punish rude people today)

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