Saturday, January 29, 2011

Obama silences the critics, steals the GOP’s thunder

It's easy to analyze the less-than-harsh criticisms of the president's State of the Union address as the result of some new political awakening, a nod of acknowledgment to the consequences of vitriolic political rhetoric, and a realization – spurred by the tragic shootings in Tucson – that there is an obvious link between violent language and violence itself.

It's possible.

It's also possible that President Obama's address was so flawless that it left no room for genuine criticism; that he silenced any potential critiques by not only agreeing with Republican concerns about the debt, about spending, and about jobs, but by then countering the fears of America's economic decline by proposing practical policies against which even his staunchest opponents couldn't argue.

Obama didn't merely steal the thunder of the Republican Party Tuesday night. He marched into the ideological fortress of the demagoguing demigods and ripped the lightening bolt right out of their hands – then beat them over the head with it as every member of Congress in the House chamber stood and cheered him on.

In outlining his plan to increase innovation, accelerate education, and improve infrastructure in the ever-competitive race toward global dominance, Obama balanced his rhetoric with specific goals to achieve them.

And Republicans ate it up.

He plastered dueling expressions of fear and wonder, guarded revelry and God-fearing awe, skepticism and – if I may say so – "hope" onto the faces of every Republican member of Congress. And he did it by using their own values, their own talking points, and their own campaign goals against them.

His call for a five-year spending freeze; his appeal to colleges to allow military recruiters back on campus; his confession that the health-care law has flaws that necessitate bipartisan fine-tuning; and his devotion to eliminating wasteful spending both within and outside of the non-discretionary portion of the federal budget – these all prompted Democrats and Republicans alike to throw bouquet after bouquet of red-palmed applause toward the president's lectern as he spoke.

The exhilaration of seeing the Elocutionist in Chief in action eventually wears off, but one must wonder how deeply Obama's words cut considering that it was members of the opposition party who were wiping tears from their eyes and droplets of spittle from their heavy chins as the president spoke.

Obama piqued their patriotic interests and massaged their narcissism by using their own doomsday rhetoric to highlight the nation's current economic decline, but then the president took the fearmongering a step further by adding a prologue to the GOP's playbook that turned the apocalyptic forecasts of the right into a lead-in to his own new world order from the left, advocating intelligence and innovation in industry and advances in education.

If only out of amazement and reserved admiration, nobody could argue.

This was evident in The Wall Street Journal's editorial, "The Great Misallocators," which focused on the GM bailout. It's why the New York Post editorial board wrote a piece titled "Obama, Pacified," talking about his attempt to "shed his image as a liberal activist." It's why The Washington Times' editorial, titled "Obama's Spaced Out Speech," was dedicated to the president's failure to take into account the context of Communism in his Sputnik reference. It's why The Washington Post ran an editorial titled "A Disappointing State of the Union Address," which talked in hypotheticals about what can and cannot be accomplished over the next two years.

That was it. The conservative mainstream reacted to the address by focusing on General Motors, liberalism, and Communism, not the content of the speech itself, not the goal of generating jobs, not the push to invest in the future, not the rally call to once again retun America as a global economic superpower that reigns not merely from its size, but from its ingenuity.

A skeptic who sees political maneuvering in every gesture of every politician will say that Obama was merely playing it safe and appealing to the masses in hopes of strengthening his 2012 re-election prospects. Perhaps he was. He avoided the controversial topics of Social Security and gun regulation. He failed to flesh out the historical context to Sputnik. And he ignored the potential for America to be the leader in robotic flying cars, time travel, and inter-personal alien language translation.

But he did deliver a non-partisan speech that every American – whether liberal, conservative, or apolitical – could understand, accept, and support. The plans he outlined proved beyond criticism, as he turned the surface-level talking points about victory, success, and global dominance into logical (and necessary) reasons for investing in America's future.

The only thing that is left to be seen is how successful Obama will be in realizing these goals. Having checked off nearly every initiative he proposed during his 2010 state of the union address – health-care reform, financial reform, and repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," among others – no one should doubt the abilities of an ambitious and dogged yet practical and ever-popular president like Obama.

Rather than dwelling on the apocalyptic anxieties of the masses, Obama has proposed common-sense policies that both quell the fears and fix the problems.

The era of violent rhetoric most likely has not passed with the Tucson shootings, but after this speech, maybe Republicans will begin to back their demagoguery with real solutions.

Talking problems to death is a luxury awarded only to the minority party. With Republicans now in control of the lower branch of Congress, they no longer are regarded as windbag obstructionists. They are actual lawmakers – the presumption and expectation being that they will now make laws.

They will keep the vitriolic rhetoric, as it is their only tool of influence over the masses anymore, but I bet that if we all sent hopes and prayers and meditations and curses and petitions and criticisms of the absence of any action behind all that anti-leftist tantrums, then perhaps Republicans at least might try to achieve a balance between the two.

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.) 

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