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The State of the Union: Bored

January 30, 2011

The French Cowboy has listened to Obama’s State of the Union speech and here’s a little belated comment on it. Frankly, I’m catching up with the last couple of minutes of the speech as I’m typing this. But the speech so far was so unspectacular that I feel it’s safe to start commenting on it before having actually finished listening to it. I will stand corrected before the end of this post should this impression turn out to be wrong.

The speech made the French Cowboy think that one might consider changing the rules on the SOTU. As I understand, there is one SOTU speech to be given once a year. This year, it seemed that the President didn’t really have much to say, though. Still, he managed to talk for an hour, yet without really saying anything particularly informative or inspiring. I’m thinking that we would all have been better off if Obama could have postponed the SOTU to another day (or year) when he actually has something to communicate.

I remember the SOTU speech like a long lecture on things you already know. There was a section on jobs and innovation that somehow morphed into a long talk on education. As one would have expected, the part on the wars was pushed to the end of the speech — where it belongs for a president who considers foreign policy to be an afterthought.

Interspersed into the speech were words of praise on the uniqueness of the US. But with Obama, the more he goes through the motions of lauding America’s greatness compared to other nations, the more you have the impression that he’s just trying to convince himself. Or maybe Obama had written the speech for Thomas Friedman.

‘We will argue over legislation and it will be messy — but trust me, that’s still better than being China where everything goes by top-down dictat’ — ‘Oh, we’re so glad you see it that way, President Obama, because we were beginning to think that we’d rather live in an oppressive, inhumane regime! But your point is well taken, we think we can go on with this truly annoying democracy of ours for a little longer now.’

Many say that, with the bad jobless numbers and the shellacking of the Democrats in November, Obama is now trying to move to the centre. Maybe he is. In the speech he sounded just as vague and double-intended as usual, though.

He wants to lower taxes — but that’s after the tax code has been simplified and all the “loopholes” have been closed. (A simplified tax code is as politically evasive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And “loopholes” is just another word for activities on which the government hasn’t levied a tax yet.) We can’t predict which will be the successful industries of the future — but we have to pick winners and subsidise specific industries like renewable energy because those will be the booming industries in the years to come. Public education has to be reformed — but teachers — er, I mean educators! — simply aren’t treated respectfully enough in the US. The deficit has to be reduced — but American infrastructure is an embarrassment and investments into notoriously unprofitable enterprises like high-speed railways need to be redoubled.

Obama’s attempts to draw parallels between today and America’s “Sputnik moment” fell short, as did his attempts to make the audience laugh. He had difficulties to even make them clap once in a while. I think they all had trouble staying awake.

Meanwhile the French Cowboy has finished listening to the speech. Nothing has happened that would change the overall conclusion: We would all have been better off if Obama had postponed the speech to a date on which he actually had something to say.

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