Live-Blogging The 2012 State Of The Union Address


10.20 pm. I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong – but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least.

We voted for Obama; now we find we got another Clinton. The base will like this. I'm not sure independents will. As performance, he did as well as he could with the thin material he had in his hands. As a speech, I thought it was the worst of his SOTUs, when he really needed his best.

10.17 pm. This notion that a country, a democracy, should have the same attitude as troops fighting a war is preposterous and slightly creepy. Yes, we should put aside our differences to get important things done, put aside ideology to focus on solving problems. But we are not a military and the president is not our commander. He is our president. We have every right to argue with one another and to distrust one another at times. The whole idea of getting each others' backs in a boisterous democracy is deeply undemocratic. I do not want to be a citizen trained like a member of the Navy SEALs. Nor should anyone. This isn't Sparta. It's America. And to use the raid on bin Laden as the model of our future cooperation struck me as too easy and trite an analogy.

10.16 pm. More tax deductions for companies that hire vets. Almost every single proposal in this speech has been a tax break for something or other. What an awful way to run an economy.

10.14 pm. A strong defense of American exceptionalism – presumably as a retort to the neocon right. But the line about American power reminds me that this is the presidentseen clasping Fareed Zakaria's "The Post-American World".

10.12 pm. A familiar line on Iran and a new fact about the Israeli alliance under Obama:

Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.

10.07 pm. And after this tired litany of liberal gimmicks, he brings us back to his original promise:

None of these reforms can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town.  We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas. 

Absolutely. But it feels alien to the rest of the speech. Maybe it's because he has been greeted with such derisive, contemptuous opposition from the GOP in the Congress. But it's sad to see him seem so, well, Washington. His strength is in the broad vision for the future, not these dozens of little initiatives. The strongest parts came in his own statements about his unilateral actions in the executive branch. The rest? Weak, poorly constructed, rhetorically sub-par.

10.06 pm. Why not mention the 60 vote filibuster if you're talking reform, rather than getting your own nominees approved more quickly? That would be the high road. He's now settled on the low one.

9.59 pm. We're beginning to get to the real stuff now. It's tax cuts for the very wealthy or investment in America. Here's the tax "reform":

Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right:  Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.  In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.  On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.   

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want.  But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes?  Most Americans would call that common sense. 

And you could achieve that with real tax reform, instead of this purely make-the-rich-pay-more gambit. He's given up on real reform, it seems to me, in favor of more tax breaks and deductions for his preferred companies and sectors, and tax hikes on the wealthy. This is the old liberalism, warmed over. To those of us who supported him because he was about serious reform – and not this kind of gimmicky meddling in the economy and increasing complexity in the tax code.

9.58 pm. Boehner and Cantor applaud an extension of the payroll tax cut.

9.56 pm. And now a war on shady banks and financial companies:

I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. 

9.55 pm. So far: nada on debt; nada on tax reform; nada on healthcare reform. He really refuses to sell Obamacare, doesn't he? But maybe it will come later.

9.54 pm. That spilt milk line: a joke worthy of Jon Huntsman. We miss you, Jon Lovett.

9.52 pm. A big idea:

That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates.  No more red tape.  No more runaround from the banks.  A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.

Basically, that's a handout to underwater homeowners using money from the banks. Pure populism. Pure redistributionism. But the speech has lacked any big sustaining argument about the inequality and unfairness that has marked the last few years. And so all of this sounds like a series of shameless panders that someone has to pay for.

9.48 pm. This speech is beginning to make Bill Clintons' look like clear and visionary. But people loved Clinton's long laundry list of micro-policies. I think this is the worst SOTU Obama has given. But maybe it will work. It sure seems like it has been put through a software program to pander to various industries.

9.45 pm. Finally, something specific: removing the subsidies for Big Oil – but adding new tax credits for green energy. More tax credits! With each minute of this speech, the tax code gets more impenetrable and the government's meddling in the economy more entrenched.

9.43 pm. Some facts to counter GOP lies: "Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.  That’s right – eight years.  Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years."

9.41 pm. "Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs." Are you keeping count of how many more tax deductions he is now proposing? The tax code is getting more complicated with every sentence. Tax reform? Left in the dust – and to the GOP. Tax simplification? He's making it all much more complicated.

9.39 pm. What on earth is this supposed to mean:

So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Again: vapid beyond measure. If he wants to convince Americans he has no idea about how the economy works, this speech so far will help.

9.33 pm. Now a demand for more money for community colleges, so they can set up partnerships for training. Sounds fine in principle (did David Brooks get a heads up?) but I'm deply skepitcal of sentences like: "Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job." This is thin gruel. So far, a litany of old liberal policies, some xenophobia and general bullshit. This is what I mean by bullshit:

I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.

What an easy thing to say. And he can do nothing about it. So why say it?

9.31 pm. So Obama is now pro-SOPA? How completely out of touch with his base. And all this nationalism and protectionism is deeply depressing.

9.27 pm. And now a Santorum-style focus on manufacturing – and the same old abuse of the tax code to influence the economy. This is industrial policy, based on populism. It isn't unleashing the free market through tax reform. It's a throwback to paleo-liberalism. Tax breaks and subsidies to keep jobs at home. It's spitting in the wind of the global economy – and it fails to grasp government's proper role. Workers here will never be cost-competitive with the Chinese. This is fantasy – and cheap populism.

9.25 pm. Now for the case for his rescuing of the auto industry, which Romney wanted to go bankrupt. It will be an interesting race in Michigan this fall, won't it?

9.22 pm. "Those are the facts." The beginning of the reclamation of reality from the deranged GOP. Good to see him insist on the truth that he inherited an economy in free-fall, and turned it around in a year. And what's interesting is his insistence that the problems go back decades. What he means, I think, is the era of supply-side economics.

9.17 pm. A segueway from the end of World War II to the end of the Iraq war – and the era when government was respected and believed in. This tour of history is now a recurring feature of Obama's speeches. Then the core argument:

Everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values.  We have to reclaim them.

9.14 pm. The right start: reminding Americans that the reason he was nominated – ending the Iraq war – has been accomplished. And that he won the war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda. Then a unifying salute to the troops.

9.08 pm. "Don't get lipstick on me!" And a big embrace from Justice Ginsburg. Then a lovely rollicking hug with Gabby Giffords. A warm personal start.

9.07 pm. It will begin and end with foreign policy. The center will be fairness. And a whole bunch of programs to help the unemployed. I hope no one forbids applause.