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      Obama is Rising

      My quick response to President Barack Obama's speech is that he consolidated his center-left base and put Republicans on the defense. To the extent that politics is drama, he continued the gains he has made since losing the House in November. In politics, as in basketball, he comes from behind well.

      Investment in infrastructure, schools, clean energy and new technology is widely popular, and cannot easily be attacked as “big government.”

      The speech was good for core constituencies he needs to keep: labor, environmentalists, gays, latinos, critics of defense spending, and opponents of tax cuts for the rich. The infrastructure emphasis brings on developers, corporations and building trades.

      It is no accident that China is buying $19 billion in American commercial aircraft from Boeing now that William Daley is White House chief of staff.

      His offense was well-orchestrated. When MSNBC was moaning before the speech that Obama would disappoint liberals, Howard Dean said he’d read the speech and liked it very much. When Larry O’Donnell was criticizing the lack of any mention of gun control, Chris Matthews scooped him with the news that Obama plans a separate speech on gun violence in the near future. Woops.

      There is a difference in politics between poetry and prose, as Mario Cuomo famously said. To those of us focused on the endless wars,  the language was not specific enough to reassure the peace movement, but that is nothing new. On Iraq, he said the war “is coming to an end” without giving a guarantee that the remaining 50,000 American troops will leave on the December 20011 deadline. On Afghanistan, he warned that more fights are ahead, but that in July he will begin bringing the troops home – without specifying how many troops will be withdrawn by when. We can assume that 2015 remains his provisional deadline for complete withdrawal of combat troops, a date which is much too far for progressives.

      Moving from the poetry to the prose, a key question in the next several months is how spending for Afghanistan and Pakistan will be addressed in the debate over deficits. It’s preposterous to propose cuts in government spending while budgeting unfunded trillions for these wars.

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      Reader Comments (7)

      A very cogent analysis of the President's SOTU speech, Tom. I also liked the fact that he was unapologetic about his support of clean energy. And i also liked how he didn't give the republicans any concessions in his ambitious agenda of clean energy, education and infrastructure.

      And did i see Boehner clapping a few times? Does this mean that the obstructionist republican right Congress actually might work with their democratic colleagues to get some of these things done in some fashion? That is the crux of the issue, it seems to me. Let's stay tuned...

      January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

      Your assessment of the speech seems correct to me. Obama's first two years have been like watching a train crash. He seems settled upon a strategy of "appearing centrist" as the political right increases its noise volume. Presumably he feels that in a time of disquiet and discontent, hugging the middle will entice afraid Americans to re-elect him in 2012. Unfortunately, as you know Democrats relied upon that strategy with Humphrey and America got Nixon. Carter tried a similar tactic and America choose Regan. Obama like Clinton might get re-elected with the centrist strategy, but I don't see a positive outcome for America even if he does get re-elected. America needs bold and decisive progressive action on a host of social, environmental and economic issues, not two more years pandering to the right because that is where Obama see his political opposition. The more probable outcome of Obama's progressive "talk without action" strategy is that America out of fear turns to a decisive political leader on the right, because Obama didn't deliver the change we counted on. In either case, the change we need isn't on the way.

      January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter McNamee

      The truth is that President Obama entered a train wreck, he didn't cause it. And he has been cleaning it up for the past two years, despite the toxic paradigm of pay for play through corporate influence in Congress. The combination of a hostile opposition and an undereducated public, created the backlash that exits in the newly posturing "government." Until we have campaign finance reform, there will continue to be this tug o war that we see as appeasement from the Executive Branch, maneuvering from the Legislative Branch, and redefining from the Judicial Branch. perhaps it is time to reinvest in civics classes for our nations children and adults. Then the issues would be more clearly defined and we would understand why "elements" are allowed war profiteering when education declines and we are 37th in health care (France is still #1, I believe). The President said that profits in the corporate world does not make the citizens of our nation successful. It doesn't even make us safe. If you are losing jobs and corporations are profiting, and they are sharing that wealth with legislators, something is wrong. I believe that our President will make a dent and there will be a shift. but it will take time to fix a toxic paradigm, and a lot of negotiation. If that looks like appeasement, that is okay with me.

      January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill

      My message of hope for Liberals and Progressives in America.

      Sign this petition at WWW.DEMOCRATZ.ORG if you want to get congress to enact a $10 an hour minimum wage, The Employee Free Choice act, a real prescription drug benefit for Medicare in part B, an End to 2 expensive wars, a single payer government health insurance plan, Tier 5 unemployment benefits extension and the women's freedom of choice act into law. Post this message on facebook groups, pages and profiles. Thank you.

      Protest the companies that give money to conservatives in both parties. These companies fund conservatives and allow conservatives to inflict punishment on the less fortunate so let us hold those companies accountable by boycotting them until we get the legislation we want.

      After you sign this petition Join the the facebook page at

      January 26, 2011 | Unregistered

      @Jill, you expressed the state of our union or disunion perfectly!
      I think Obama in a political manner that did not dilute the values he was promoting but rather framed this equitable, aspirational society in terms of jobs and patriotism and a true American Dream.

      But i do continue to wonder and sometimes despair why the American public doesn't get it, that we are being squeezed by a very organized and powerful corporatism in America today. I don't know if civics classes will do it. the Boston Tea Party was in rebellion against the first corporation in America, The British East India. Tom, not Hayden, but Jefferson, admonished against these "new aristocracies," that he deemed should be crushed "in infancy." Or at least have corporate charters to keep them honest and serving the common good.

      There was once a populism in this country that was healthily suspicious of these centers of power. FDR used it to pass the New Deal reforms. Jim Hightower for example exemplifies it today. I think that the work of the left in our times should be to reinvigorate this populism of We The People against the tyranny of corporatism. How we can get there i do not know at this time but am putting it out as a goal for all of us and suggestions.



      January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid


      To stop corporatism, you need to starve the corporations by getting as many people as you can to not buy from them until they get congress to pass progressive legislation.

      See my petition at

      January 26, 2011 | Unregistered

      No problem in the world is going to be solved unless the major problem in the world is solved, and nobody seems to be looking at it. Overpopulation. Look at Egypt. The only habitable land in the country borders the Nile, and Egypt's population has quadrupled in just the last fifty years. According to reports by the U. S. Census Bureau (, the population of the world is going to reach seven billion this year, up from three billion in 1960.
      That is the driving force behind our environmental problems, civil unrest and wars. Global warming? We're not going to solve that problem with recycling and more efficient use of insulating our homes when an additional 362,000 people a day are being born on this planet with less than half that number dying.
      Alas, it is already too late.

      February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Herman

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