The State of the Union Speech 2012: Not My Reality

Before President Obama got elected, I used to look forward to hearing his comments and soundbites, even though I knew his politics were more neoliberal than liberal. I relished the fact that his comments tended to reflect a reality that dovetailed with mine, and rued that once he entered through that fence (wall?) that bordered the White House, his words would no longer reflect a reality that seemed familiar. Seems to happen to every person who enters the WH, whether as POTUS or as staffer.

And every year, well-before President Obama was elected, I would make it a point to be in a movie theater or in a cafe with no access to internet, so that I could enjoy the evening in which POTUS would deliver his State of the Union speech. Listening to POTUS speeches during the Clinton Presidency had always sent me reaching for the cough drops to soothe my outrage-ridden throat.  But this year, in my new-found vocation as a blogger, I decided to listen to the speech and take it seriously. Tweeting about it certainly makes the time go faster, as I discovered last night, and it is cathartic, since it allows me to remind myself of the fact that the POTUS’ speech diverges from my reality kind of like Disney’s Cinderella diverges from Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In.  President Obama is hardly unusual in this: every POTUS’ speech in my coming-of-age lifetime has diverged from any recognizable reality.

And so, I listened to the President boast about having assassinated Osama Bin Laden, having defended the Homeland from the illegal immigrants (“more boots on the border than ever before”) and still-looming terrorist threats, promise that every option regarding disarming Iran of nuclear weapons was on the table (patriotism as masculinity), insist that making government “leaner and meaner” would give people flexibility to help themselves (what part of massive unemployment and starvation did he not understand?), promise to work with Republicans to “reform entitlement,” pretend that he didn’t hand out bailouts to the banks by insisting that we not do that in the next term, promise to “open up” (eviscerate) 75% land for more natural resources and energy, insist that schools be able to reward the best teachers–not so bad until you hear the kicker: fire teachers who are “bad” (and will decisions about competence be made like decisions about the guilt of suspected terrorists? (Can you say “union-busting” and returning to the free market to “allow the best to rise”? Sounds a bit Ayn Randish to me), and ultimately, point to the “dangers and darkness” of the War on Terror lurking at our borders (dangers that have enabled the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocents), Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s military employment program–135,000!!–for returning soldiers (with which skills, dare I ask? And these jobs aren’t provided. There are some folks that the Bidens talked to who have indicated interest in providing jobs in return for tax credits. Hardly a done deal), the increased expenditures for VA programs (and will these cover the extensive psychiatric and rehabilitative serves that veterans will need?).

This year, I opted for Scotch instead of cough drops. Then I listened to the proud defense of jingoism, which is apparently different from racism, according to Tim Wise:

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests

And the salute to raw aggression:

All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.

And what a brilliant and liberal note POTUS ended on: The proudest moment: Winning the War on Terror, amounted to sending Navy Seals in to kill a foreign nationals, some time later, US citizens without due process. And his proudest possession from that trip, the flag that the Navy Seals took in with them? Otherwise known as the souvenir of the end of due process. And “No one thought about politics, no one thought about themselves…

More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other – because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.

And a bit later:

Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.

I wonder how the family and community who loved Danny Chen feel. You remember Danny Chen. He was the US Army Private who was beaten to death and the victim of racist bullying by the others who were supposed to be watching his back. But maybe it’s different in the Navy Seals: everyone watches each other’s back there.

More Scotch.  And I drank myself through the Mitch Daniels speech, which unlike Rachel Maddow, I liked quite a lot (I didn’t agree with any of it), but it sounded like a true-red Republican speech about fiscal conservatism, fighting terror, and making cuts in the social safety net (kind of like President Obama promising “reform of entitlement program.” See Sen. Bernie Sanders’ comments below). Familiar, conventional, pedestrian. Conservative. Republicanish. Not Neanderthal. But Conservative. Like Republicans who are not completely insane sound.

In between the MSNBC commentators, the WH paraded their gorgeous spokeswomen, Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz (remember when she defended the massive number of deportations under Obama?) to promote for the POTUS. I know, I know. They’re shilling for the Prez. It’s an election year. I got it. But please, let’s not pretend that we’re listening to speeches that are more than remotely connected to facts, Rachel, Chris, and Ed.  When I listened to the commentators, I remembered why I refuse to watch TV during the SOTU speech annually. I often feel existentially and politically alienated in this country, but when I watched “Ed” (I don’t even know what his last name is) practically xxxxx xx xx xxxxx (is that rude to say? Sorry.) get very excited about the brilliance of Obama’s speech, and his insistence about how we “needed to pull together,” how Obama rightfully pointed out that we all need to fight terror in order to preserve our freedom and how uncontroversial his point is, I wanted to lose myself in Scotch shot #y+1 and fall asleep dreaming about a feminist Ryan Gosling.

These are liberals talking? According to a friend who knows my politics intimately, “Ed” is a much more progressive “liberal” than many of the talking heads on TV. Um, ok. Then, clearly, I’m not liberal. The “pride” at which liberals took in their POTUS in defending jingoistic policies, insist that xenophobia was an apt position for progressives to cheer, and insist that his “jobs program,” which is still inchoate, (though for reasons different from those mouthed by the Republicans) was chilling.

Patriotism (and I can never type this word anymore without instinctively  putting it in all-caps, since the only context in which I discuss Patriotism is the USA PATRIOT Act), is defined through the suppressing of evidence of Muslim detainees, as denying due process to foreign nationals, undocumented migrants, and suspected terrorists alike—and now with the passage of NDAA—to all US citizens who reside in the US or abroad), moving to suppress the UK in their attempt to obtain evidence regarding claims of former British nationals that they were tortured under United States captivity, attempts to prosecute innumerable US officials under the 1917 Espionage Act, the promise to drill away for more oil…

Bernie Sanders refreshed my belief in sanity again, when he pointed to Obama’s insistence that he worked closely with the Republicans to “reform entitlement programs.” And as Sen. Sanders pointed out, he was going to be candid and translate what O meant by “working with Republicans”” He was going to cut Social Security and Medicare. Um, duh.

But at least he promised us jobs. And he saved the automobile industry. Economics post on the SOTU coming soon.

More later. I need to drown my alienation in more Scotch or, failing that, in ice cream. Definitely not my reality.

Author: Falguni A. Sheth

I'm a philosopher and political analyst who writes about all kinds of things, from national security, US politics, race, terrorism, miscegenation, feminism, philosophy, and whatever else captivates my attention. My views are idiosyncratic. I'd like to believe they're carefully considered, and I'm not particularly interested in following crowds.

2 thoughts on “The State of the Union Speech 2012: Not My Reality”

  1. Listening to Bernie Sanders definitely gave me a little relief afterwards. Unfortunately he and Kucinich aren’t enough to make sweeping changes in our political culture. But they do a good job of shouting into the wind.

    I think I could’ve told you without reference to “Ed” that you’re indeed not a liberal. Liberals support foreign intervention and indefinite detention and half-hearted post-Keynesian economics.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: