Missed President Obama's final #SOTU last night? Check out his full remarks. https://t.co/7KHp3EHK8D— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 13, 2016
I always do this--I find there's some major event to do political blogging about, blow it off for something more interesting like getting a decent night's sleep, and then find that I am blog-blocked until I get a few paragraphs about it out of the way. So here goes:
It was a good speech in that it was optimistic about what the US can achieve together as a nation. President Obama said it would be shorter than previous SOTU speeches, and I think it was, barely. I think expressing a commitment to investing in a cure for cancer is a an admirable goal, and putting VP Biden in charge of it is a great idea because he is a very motivated person of great capability. This kind of government pledge to start a "War on Cancer" had been previously declared by President Nixon, but I think the past four decades have given us more reason to be hopeful--take a look at the immunotherapy that has resulted in President Carter's cancer being undetectable.
I think one of the more positive things about the evening was that there wasn't a whole bunch of rebuttals--SC Governor Nikki Haley gave the Republican rebuttal and I think she did fine. It's not an easy act to follow, she was maybe a little stiff, but she didn't say anything weird, reach about for beverages, or wear a really distracting tie. For a position where the bar is "not screwing up"--she gets an A for not screwing up. She spoke in favor of the US being a welcoming and diverse nation and for civility in politics. It kind of astounds me that this was found objectionable by some far-right voices like Ann Coulter (who Tweeted that her Fatherland Figure Donald Trump should deport the Governor of SC--who was born here! Seriously?)
With things like the State of the Union and the primary debates--I never watch alone but with Twitter open so I can catch other folks' "hot takes", quips and reactions. This means some of the GOP primary contestants' Tweets got RT'd into my feed. I'm not going to go searching for them all, but I really have to say Jeb Bush knows about as much about foreign policy as my dog (well, my parents' dog, actually--he's part-time mine). He really seemed to want to try that "radical Islamic terrorist" magical word nonsense, and scoffed at Obama's patient explanation that ISIL is by no means an existential threat to the most powerful nation on the planet by deriding the term "JV team" that Obama used off-hand months and months ago. Simply pathetic.
The SOTU is such a formality that some pundits (even I, one year) have suggested that it could be done away with. Thought up by the Founders in an era when our 24 hour cable news and digital access to world events was unimaginable, the State of the Union address was a reckoning of the actual state of affairs for a nation whose sources of opinion on that score was more limited. Television cameras have given us a very different and more "meta" experience of how this address is received by the immediate hearers in the room with the President (like what I called Senator Marco Rubio's "rather be fundraising" expression, or new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's attempts to keep his face on straight) and the internet gives us access to the reactions of the pundits, bloggers, and social media literati all over the world. Put in that latter perspective as a communal viewing experience, maybe it gains a new purpose just by being a shared communal political viewing and listening experience for people of whatever political persuasion, in a time when opinions and viewing options are so diverse that we have often very little overlap with our fellow citizens.
It's also a little bittersweet that this is Obama's last SOTU. In a way, I don't think any president ever gets the term(s) in office that they expected. I think it is easy to weigh what any political figure accomplishes as if the ability to do so lay in his or her (someday) hands alone. It doesn't. We were expecting hope and change. We got changes--hope is always with us. It hasn't been a bad run.