The State of the Union is perhaps the perfect opportunity for a sitting president to wax eloquent on the progress made by our great nation under his faithful leadership – all the moreso in an election year. So President Obama clearly deserved to take some poetic license with tonight’s address. To be fair, there were even parts of his speech that I agree strongly with.
Yet my problem has never been with what this President publicly says, but with what he quietly does – too often, very different things. And while parts of tonight’s speech were relatively non-controversial, other statements immediately provoked my ire as being distorted and blatantly disingenuous.
One of the first statements out of the President’s mouth, in fact, sent a shiver down my spine. “We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.”
I mean no disrespect to our troops, but to use our exit from Iraq as evidence that the United States is safer and more respected around the world is a gut-wrenching distortion that flies in the face of facts. The Obama administration negotiated throughout 2011 to keep troops in Iraq, and failed. They failed because some unfortunate diplomatic cables revealed that American troops aren’t above committing the kinds of war crimes that always seem to happen in armed conflicts. Far from showing that we are safer and more respected around the world, our withdrawal from Iraq shows that we are guilty of the same atrocities committed by every other occupying, imperialistic force in history. And instead of acknowledging this fundamental truth, with a rhetorical flourish, it is transposed with political expediency.
The President goes on to imagine a “future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world” – worth mentioning as a laudable goal, but also as an implicit aknowledgement that our foreign policy is driven by our greed for oil.
But what comes next is perhaps the most revealing commentary in Obama’s address. After explaining how his grandmother “worked on a bomber assembly line” and his veteran grandfather “got a chance to go to college on the GI Bill,” the President grandly concludes that “the defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive.”
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the defining issue of our time is how to keep alive the mechanations of the military-industrial complex that gave his grandmother a job making bombs and his grandfather a free ride to school. The imperative of our generation is to continue our nearly century-long addiction – from the World Wars, to Korea, to Vietnam, to the Cold War, to Iraq I, Iraq II and Afghanistan – to war-based economics.
The ugly truth behind this imperative is that the nostalgiac vision Obama invokes and wants to keep alive has always been premised on the availability of cheap oil and ongoing war. Obama’s actions in 2011 to keep our troops in Iraq, and his statements tonight on Iran and Afghanistan, only reinforce his commitment to continuing this tradition.
On the economy, Obama states that “we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable,” though this claim is factually laughable. Very little has actually been done to hold any of the Wall Street bankers accountable, nor to reform the financial laws in any but the most modest, lobbyist approved minutiae. Obama states that we will “not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits,” yet his administration has done demonstrably nothing in the last four years on any of these issues. Perhaps this year will mark his turning point, but I am not holding my breath.
Another area I still disagree with all the major candidates on is taxation. Why are we arguing about the merits of different personal income tax rates, when the real issue is that the income tax is an economic perversion and a pretext for government intrusion into the private lives of citizens? The only credible argument about the personal income tax is abolishing it and the IRS in favor of a system that taxes consumption rather than productivity, like the Fair Tax.
In other areas, I agree with Obama’s rhetoric: closing corporate tax loopholes; investing in American jobs, renewable energy, and education; reforming immigration policy. But only time will tell whether actions will comport with rhetoric.
Meanwhile, a few glarlingly obvious omissions from Obama’s speech: any discussion of civil liberties or executive powers; indefinite detention/assassination without due process; covert assassination by drone; criminal justice and drug policy; public health and emergency services funding.
In the end, I am left most indellibly with my overwhelming rejection of President Obama’s characterization of the “defining issue of our time,” and its reek of Straussian Neoconservatism. The real defining issue of our time is finding a route around the broken political process that makes Obama, his platitudes, and his authoritarian apologetics our “best” hope for “change” in America.