I have to admit, I was, like other leftists have said, in an odd way comforted by Bush's total transparency (as an idiot), incompetence and incoherent ramblings, and the fact that millions and millions in this country and the vast majority of world citizens saw right through it. When he gave a State of the Union address or any other speech and mentioned evil-doers, 9/11 a dozen times and how many more tax cuts we needed for top earning businesses to help us all out, I thought "what a great spokesman for the empire and capitalism. A few more Bushes and we may have an actual revolution.".
Adversely, I know I make my criticisms of Obama, which is all our responsibility to do, really, but I'm not exaggerating, being bitter or overly cynical when I say this - Obama's address to the joint session of congress scared the hell out of me yesterday. It unsettled me to a degree where I couldn't even sleep much last night. For those wondering about the text (I recommend everybody read his speeches instead of watch them, because without his hyped presence to give you that "tingle up your leg", or however Chris Matthews described it, reading the actual words reveal his speeches to be very political status quo), you can find it here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-of-President-Barack-Obama-Address-to-Joint-Session-of-Congress/
The just of the speech is that Obama comes to us, in a time of deep economic crisis, as the revived hope of The American Capitalist Dream, to get us to a place we more or less were 10 or 15 years ago - struggling under capitalism but not soo so much (especially if you were white-middle class or rich):
"That's what this is about. It's not about helping banks - it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover."
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I tend to think that "maybe" has been more of a "maybe not" for many of us for decades, and by most economists' estimations we're looking at a whole lot more "maybe nots" in the future. There are some positive signs for some people in Obama's loose band-aid of a recovery plan:
"Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values - Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage."
Keeping people in their homes was what many of us wanted to see in the first place. It seems, though, like the millions designated aren't much considering the scope of the problem. I'm also weary of how the government will then determine who was responsible, and deserves help under this plan, and what neighbor "bought a house he could never hope to afford". Why do I have an odd feeling the responsible parties will end up looking a certain way, from a certain background, and be concentrated in certain neighborhoods? Also, this plan sounded hostile to multiple property managers, people trying to make quick real-estate bucks, so I'm hoping there's more specifics that I don't know about (very possible, as I haven't read, like most people, the specifics) that are aimed to help out renters that never bought a home. I do realize, though, Obama is allergic the word "working class", so renters may also be out of his vocabulary.
He then goes on to give some lip service to regulation, attack the CEOs and the bailout of the last administration that he helped push and voted for for populist affect (trust him, he gets it, he says, to make us confident in more pouring from his administration into financial institutions, hoping they'll get looser with credit). He, much like all his predecessors, promises to get the deficit under control by cutting it in half. How's he going to this and give 95% of us tax cuts? By cutting the bloated trillion dollar military budget? Of course not! What kind of president would do anything but increase it, as Obama pledges to do? No, he's going to cut the "programs that don't work". For Clinton, it was unemployment benefits. Obama points to education programs (among other things). Watch out, after school b-ballers, we need better bullet proof vests for the troops! Obama then hits on the three areas he wants to tackle to create long term economic growth- energy, health care and education. This is when things just start to get weird, scary and out there. He starts off with energy independence (and, amazingly, manages to do so without implying in some way Hugo Chavez is a dictator - something he's had trouble doing thus far):
"But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."
Of course, the elephant in the room he neglected to mention was more nuclear power, which seems to attract a great deal of attention from Obama and his proposed budgets. Guess it just doesn't go off well on tv. Biofuels through ethanol have also been pretty widely exposed as a bad idea, and there's yet to be a such proven thing as "clean coal" - it's simply an idea at this point by the coal industry, which has strong links to Obama. The wind and solar, of course, were nice shout outs for the environmentalists for Obama.
He moves on, then, to healthcare:
"Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control."
More encouraging than what we heard under Bush, no doubt, but his plan seems to get sketchier over time, not clearer. He says, starting next week, he'll bring together businesses, workers, medical providers, etc., to help find a solution. I'm doubtful any of these solutions will include single-payer healthcare. I can imagine, whatever odd market-based/government hybrid plan we come up with will be far from a real solution, but I would like to see, I guess at the moment, any advancement, considering how huge the problem is. His points on health-care brought up more questions than answers, though, so I'll move on to where it really starts getting weird/scary - education (and, by his implication, military recruitment):
"But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools. "
Charter schools can be a troubling indicator of attempted privatization, and Obama picking Arnie Duncan as Education Secretary isn't comforting, but I don't have a lot of knowledge about that so on to the out there part:
"And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."
What economy is this man living in? In what reality is it anywhere near feasible that we can see, with sky high tuition costs, people in debt, no real help from government sources, credit freezing up, millions and millions of people going back to school? Obama offers his solution:
"I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education."
Now, does anybody, experiencing the life and history of this country, have to be too cynical to think that the aim of this is not so much after school volunteers or national guards that help with floods, but getting more and more poor to fill the ranks of the military, which is experiencing issues right now in that department? This would be one way to make good on his pledges of thousands of more troops in the forces. He even gave an example of one of our greatest triumphs through crisis earlier on in the speech - " In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history". These GI recipients being people who had come back from one of the most brutal wars in history.
And that all brings us to, tucked away behind the hope, the education, the health care, the industry that has propelled US capitalism for so many decades - war. All kinds of wars. Truman's wars, JFK's wars, Nixon's wars, Clinton's wars, Bush's wars and now Obama's wars. Now, we've finally progressed enough as a nation where we can proudly say a black man is the newest face of our wars. He calls for an end to the war in Iraq, and leaving it to its people. Many people have pointed out there's no plan to immediately draw out most troops or claim them under "non-combat" roles. Our troops in Afghanistan, however, ain't going nowhere. So here we go again:
"And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away."
Most people paying attention to the situation already know we've been attacking Pakistan and killed up to 130 now (more each week), but to hear Obama so easily bring it into the fold here is still startling. Any expert on the subject has pointed out the danger of these attacks in Pakistan. Pakistan - one of the world's most populated, one of the few that's nuclear armed, one where governments are constantly hanging by a string and harmed by their open allegiances to the US, one which has constant hostilities with their nuclear armed neighbor, India. Yet Obama continues with this madness. Do we want all out war in south Asia, so we can have an economic comeback thanks to weapons sales, which we've already been engaged in with India and Pakistan (ok, maybe that's a bit too hysterical)? Does Obama really believe that "terrorists" can't plot out attacks against Americans from Germany, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Florida, as they can from Afghanistan/Pakistan? Is this really what his economic plan boils down to?