I missed the State of the Union address this past Tuesday because I had a schedule conflict, which was unfortunate since I really enjoyed live-blogging it last year. Well, I finally got around to watching it (and the Republican response) this evening. So here is what would have been in my live blog if I had been live-blogging it. Think of it as a time-delayed live-blog.

Pre-Show

  • I’m glad to see that Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Representative John Boehner (R-OH 8th) are wearing less effeminate ties than they did last year.
  • Very glad to see Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ 8th) present for the address. What a remarkable recovery she has made. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of her, despite her retirement.
  • Five Supreme Court justices are present for the address.
  • The ‘designated survivor’ for this year’s State of the Union is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Each year, one member of the President’s cabinet stays in a safe, remote location far from the address. The designated survivor is responsible for the continuity of government in the event of a catastrophe at the Capitol.
  • The address is to be given, as usual, in the House of Representatives chamber. Members of the Senate also join, making this a Joint Session of Congress. Members of the Executive and Judicial branches also join, by tradition.
  • The State of the Union has been delivered as a speech each year since 1913. The Constitution requires that Presidents report to Congress annually on the State of the Union, but does not specify that it need be a speech. Before Woodrow Wilson’s address in 1913, the report had been delivered in writing.
  • President Barack Obama (D) entered the chamber to the usual barrage of handshakes, introduced by the House Sargent-at-Arms. He is also wearing a less effeminate tie than he did last year.
  • I don’t remember there being cameras on the floor in the past; I thought footage was usually from fixed cameras around the chamber. Pleasantly surprised to see a more close-up view of the president entering the chamber. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do this last year.
  • The president gave Representative Giffords a hearty hug. Touching moment.
  • Standing ovation for the president at his introduction by Speaker Boehner.

The State of the Union Address

  • Vice President Biden almost seemed to be in tears for a moment right at the beginning. Not sure why; the president hadn’t started yet.
  • A declaration that for the first time in a decade there are no U.S. fighters in Iraq, and for the first time in 20 bin Laden is no threat, followed by a great shout-out to the men and women of our armed forces.
  • Typical rhetoric about imagining a better future for America; standard SotU fare for presidents of any party.
  • Interesting comparison to the post-WWII economy; little mention of the fact that the post-WWII economy was marked with sound fiscal policy and shrinking deficits.
  • ‘The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive’ (referring to the traditional ‘American Dream’ of upward mobility).
  • Strong words about everybody playing by the same rules; but the implication that the poor and middle class don’t have a ‘fair shot’ is false. On the contrary, they often have some of the greatest opportunities—and immense government support. But they have to do their part.
  • ‘In 2008, the house of cards collapsed . . . it was wrong, it was irresponsible.’ Indeed.
  • The job creation he’s speaking about over the last several weeks does not constitute a pattern. Maybe it will turn out to be, but it seems quite premature to assume it will.
  • He’ll oppose bringing back the policies that brought on the crisis? What policies were that? The government-mandated loose mortgage lending at the government-owned Fannie and Freddie?
  • Is he really pointing to the auto bailouts as a success story? That’s absurd. We lost half of the investment, and they still laid off most of their workers, they are still hobbled by destructive union contracts, and they have little prospect for the future. And why did he include Ford, which received little/no government assistance and recovered on its own (thanks to good management and good product)? The one Detroit success story is the one where the government had nothing to do with it.
  • “What happened in Detroit can happen in other industries.” Yes; and that’s terrifying.
  • Glad to hear that some companies are considering bringing jobs back to the U.S. That’s a good thing.
  • I agree with the President’s proposal to adjust U.S. tax policy to encourage hiring in the U.S. instead of off-shoring. However, that must go hand-in-hand with reasonable restrictions on coercive union contracts (no other contract signed under duress is legally binding, so why are union contracts?).
  • Wow, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA 7th) really did not look impressed.
  • Trade disputes getting worked on by the administration at twice the rate of the previous one; good stuff. Free trade must by fair trade. China should not be permitted to game the system at our expense.
  • “I also hear from business leaders who want to hire in the United States, but can’t find people with the right skills.” This is a big part of the employment problem; there are actually a lot of openings, but our workforce quality has dropped so much that many of them can’t be filled here.
  • He proposed a work training program to help solve the problem; that’s not the right solution. And it’s certainly the wrong solution at the federal level. Education is state business, and should remain state business. The states need to do a better job, but federalizing is the wrong approach.
  • “It is time to turn our unemployment system into a re-employment system that puts people to work.” Yep. Again, state problem, not federal problem. Unemployment programs are a state endeavor.
  • More standard talk about how important teachers are. Yes, I get it. Not a federal issue.
  • I appreciate that he is talking about replacing bad teachers and promoting good ones. A merit-based system is long, long overdue in our schools. But how can it happen as long as the unions run the show?
  • “I am proposing that every state requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.” Again, sounds great in theory, but what’s good for Virginia isn’t necessarily what’s best for Massachusetts or Alaska or California. Let the states make their own policies.
  • He’s calling for states to increase funding for higher education and for universities to try to keep their costs down. ‘If you can’t keep tuition from going up, you need to understand that taxpayer funding is going to go down’ (paraphrased). Yep.
  • Now he’s moving to immigration, in the context of kids. He’s talking about how his administration has increased border enforcement, but calls for Congressional movement on comprehensive immigration reform now.
  • Yeah, giving kids an American education (which costs money) and then deporting them is pretty absurd.
  • “Innovation is what America has always been about.” He wants to tear down regulations that get in the way of starting small businesses; agreed. Let’s do it. He gave Congress an ultimatum to get a bill on his desk this year. Make it so, Congress!
  • The president says he’s opening 75 percent of offshore resources for oil drilling; sounds suspicious. I’m all for it if it’s true.
  • We are relying less and less on foreign oil, which is progress. The president is calling for an ‘all of the above’ energy policy working to exploit all of our energy resources, oil and otherwise—natural gas being called out as a prominent example that could power the country for over 100 years.
  • “It is public research dollars . . . ” that fund this energy development. Eh; some of it is. The question is, should it be publicly funded when it is private companies that will reap the benefits?
  • Typical shout-outs to random people and their anecdotes in the gallery. I wish our Presidents would start showing some originality.
  • “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”
  • “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough.” Amen. Free markets don’t need government money—not for oil, and not for clean energy either. Let the free market do its job.
  • The military is making a commitment to clean energy; not sure what that really means. Sounds nice, I guess.
  • Encouraging building improvements to reduce energy usage sounds great too; but what is the proposed government role here? The president is especially vague on this point.
  • Typical talk about our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, broadband, etc. He’s talking about the New Deal and post-New Deal infrastructure investment.
  • Proposes putting half the money that had been going into the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into debt reduction, and the other half into infrastructure. Not a bad idea, except we don’t even have that money to spend. I’d have to look at the actual proposed costs.
  • Proposes eliminating red-tape on mortgage refinancing. Sounds promising, but too vague again. “It will give the banks that received taxpayer money a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”
  • “No bailouts, no handouts, no cop-outs.”
  • “We need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.” Isn’t part of freedom being allowed to be irresponsible, and reaping the consequences thereof?
  • Obama claims he proposed fewer regulations in his first term than Bush did. Interesting, if true. Need to confirm if it’s true though.
  • Ohhhhh . . . terrible joke about crying over spilled milk. Terrible. You have to hear it to believe it.
  • He finally brings up health care reform, but only mentions that companies can’t cancel your coverage, unreasonably jack up your rates, or charge men and women differently. No mention of the rest of the bill and its already-burgeoning negative impacts on our health insurance system.
  • The consumers finally have a protector? We always did, they just don’t do their jobs.
  • “Return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility.”
  • He’s condemning a tax hike on ‘working Americans’ while the economy is still fragile. Good. But what about the grossly over-taxed top 1 percent, who provide well over 30 percent of the government’s tax revenue?
  • Yes we need tax reform, but I doubt it’s ever going to happen. Bush proposed it in pretty much each one of his State of the Union addresses. And this president has a very different definition of ‘fair’ than I do. I don’t think half of America paying 0 percent of the federal taxes and the other half paying 100 percent of them is ‘fair’ by any stretch of the imagination.
  • “Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.” Yep, I agree with that. But we shouldn’t milk ‘em either.
  • “We don’t begrudge financial success in this country; we admire it.”
  • Wait wait wait. He says every tax break the ‘rich’ get either adds to the deficit or has to come from somebody else. That’s only true if the government stays as big and powerful as it is today. If we shrink the government, as we should, this statement is not true in the slightest.
  • He’s talking about how a lot of people feel like Washington is broken. It’s supposed to be! Gridlocked is the natural state of our government; that’s why we have two houses, three branches, and fifty state governments. It was designed that way.
  • “Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress and I’ll sign it tomorrow.” Yep; sounds good to me. I can’t trade on my insider knowledge, so why can Congress?
  • Obama asked the Senate to give all nominees a simple up or down vote within 90 days. Yeah, that’s what the Constitution requires—though both parties ignore the Constitution most days.
  • The president wants to reform the federal bureaucracy, though he’s not clear on how he’s going to do it.
  • He quotes a great Lincoln quote, but his policies don’t match it one bit. “Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Seems odd to quote something he quite obviously doesn’t believe.
  • He’s switching back to the Global War on Terror; says we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Also mentions that today, Ghaddafi is gone from Libya thanks in-part to our foreign policy. No argument from me. I’m glad he’s gone too.
  • “We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings . . . ” Perhaps true in the context of our foreign policy, but curiously incongruent with his very strongly pro-abortion domestic policies.
  • Obama takes a very strong line against Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, and will take ‘no options off the table.’ Thank God. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Obama’s foreign policy overall, which is largely un-changed from those of his predecessor.
  • “Any one who tells you America is in decline . . . doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Not sure that’s true, but it’s a nice sentiment. “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs . . . and I intend to keep it that way.”
  • Another compliment for our armed forces, which brings a somewhat rare bipartisan standing ovation. God bless our troops.
  • Segues directly into his administration’s increases in Veterans Administration funding, and that new tax credits are being extended to businesses that hire veterans. He also proposes a new Veterans Job Corps to aid returning soldiers in finding civilian work.
  • “Those of us who have been sent here to serve can learn a lot from our troops.”
  • Interesting; Obama has a flag that the SEAL Team took with them when they found Osama bin Laden, calls it one of his most prized possessions.
  • He is spending a lot of time on military affairs and military metaphors; seems to be a strategic move.
  • He’s finishing up with the kind of soaring rhetoric he became known for on the campaign trail; “The state of our union will always be strong. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
  • The speech worked out to be about 1 hour and 10 minutes long.

The Republican Response

  • Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN) will be delivering the Republican response.
  • Awkward silence at the start of the response.
  • A good, complimentary beginning—applauding Obama’s anti-terror policies.
  • Gutsy move, Daniels says that the state of the union is actually “grave” and implies that the president is misrepresenting the facts when he says anything otherwise.
  • As I expected, the focus jumps right into the debt—a subject largely skirted-over by the president. Points out, rightfully, that government spending and poor policy has extended the recession, although Bush and Obama share the blame.
  • “The first generation in memory to face a future less promising than their parents did.”
  • “We must always be a nation of ‘haves’ and ‘soon-to-haves.'”
  • Daniels claims that we are not far behind Greece and other bankrupted European powers that have fallen from the positions of world leadership.
  • “The problems are simply mathematical.” Yes. Money-in is less than money-out. Pretty simple.
  • Daniels says we need a positive approach, not of accusation but of solutions. “The only way up . . . is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs at a faster rate than today.”
  • “Steve Jobs created more jobs than all the stimulus money the president borrowed . . . ” True; business is the solution, not government. But Bush deserves a big hunk of the blame for the borrowing too. Let’s be fair, guys.
  • Proposes a simplified tax system with lower rates and fewer loopholes. I’ve been saying that for years and years and years.
  • “We must unite to save the safety net,” referring to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs need serious reform, as they are on the road to bankruptcy. Unfortunately the president has also skirted this issue. Of course, the real question that Daniels won’t ask is why we need these programs at the federal level anyway, so his approach ain’t much better.
  • Daniels joins with Obama in opposing government handouts for millionaires. Good.
  • The focus stays on debt, and with good reason, pointing out that a bankrupt America hurts everybody, rich or poor.
  • “Anybody who works for growth and solvency . . . is our friend.”
  • A good synopsis of the President’s view that Americans are no longer able to handle themselves and need the government to tell us what insurance to buy, what light bulbs to buy, etc. Makes a similar synopsis of some Republicans who doubt that our self government still works. Condemns both.
  • “Government is meant to serve the people, not supervise them.” Amen.
  • “There is nothing wrong with the state of our union that Americans . . . can’t set right.” Some times I wonder.
  • Brief speech, as usual. The response was about 15 minutes in length.

Conclusion

These were pretty typical addresses from both sides.

What was striking about Obama’s speech was that he completely ignored the subject of debts and deficits except for a throw-away mention of putting half of money we’ve spent on war into debt service. Considering that the debts and deficits are the biggest threat to the future of this country right now, it seems downright insane for the president to ignore the subject. In general, Obama seemed to be intentionally focusing on topics that speak to moderates and even conservatives—military, anti-terror, tax reform, anti-bailout, etc. This makes sense; it is an election year and he is attempting to win back the moderates, who have largely abandoned him since 2008.

What struck me about Daniels’s speech was that it started on a surprisingly negative note. The typical approach in these speeches is to be overwhelmingly positive, only reserving a handful of negative jabs for the opposing party and/or president. I don’t believe I have ever heard a State of the Union rebuttal that argued that the state of the union is not strong. Daniels said that the state of the union is grave, which is true but it was incredibly refreshing to hear a politician actually say it aloud. This country is teetering on the brink of fiscal and civil liberty disasters, and we need to stop kidding ourselves about it. But aside from that, there was little notable here. I did very much like the line where he said that, “Government is meant to serve the people, not supervise them.”

The President’s address was very well delivered, reminiscent of his strong campaign speeches in 2008. The conclusion was especially strong, if somewhat formulaic. Daniels is clearly a less talented orator, though even the best of orators is at a disadvantage in the audience-less setting. The response was certainly far better than Governor Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) in 2009; indeed, it was one of the better opposition responses in recent memory.

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.