January 28, 2014
And… action! There he is, tall and lean, his pleasant face composed
in an expression at once cheerful and slightly supercilious. It's our
president, looking painfully aware of the inauthenticity of political
spectacle, but resigned to it, because, whatever. Yet, as disenchantment
has settled over his presidency, the Enchanter in Chief must get an
enthusiastic vibe going. Which is to say that the wonky incrementalist
must pass himself off as a man of big vision and jump over a giant
believability gap that has opened in the last six years.
The State of the Union, we’re told, is his last big chance.
SOTU was born out of a vague mandate in the Constitution that the
President check in with Congress from “time to time.” Jefferson didn’t
like the spoken delivery, feeling it too imperial, but Wilson brought
the custom back. Truman turned the address into a televised spectacle,
and Bill Clinton brought it to the web.
So now we’re stuck with
it. Officially, Congress is the audience. But the real audience is the
American public. Just now, that particular public is not overly thrilled
with President Obama, whose job approval rating stands at 43 percent.
the SOTU matter? To pundits who need to pundicate, sure. To the public,
not so much. The public has a point. Obama talked about a lot of stuff
in his 2013 SOTU, like a new jobs program and new gun controls, and
Congress pretty much ignored him. He told those pesky politicians to set
aside partisanship and work together to pass a budget. Several months
later, the government shut down over a budget impasse. And so on.
we're led to believe that the president has big plans, yes, big plans
indeed. He will even thumb his nose at Congress to get them done if need
be. His plans include include raising wages to $10.10 for people making
a miserly $7.25, the current Dickensian minimum. Oh, wait, he's only
talking about federal contract wages. OK, really only some of them. And
only the new ones.
An income of $10.10 per hour falls short of a
living wage. The plan does not even match the boldness of conservative
California businessman Ron Unz, who wants to raise the minimum to $12
because he doesn’t like having to pay for all the social welfare programs people have to rely on when they get paid squat.
you were wanting something bold and butt-kicking, something that takes
on inequality in America the way Lyndon B. Johnson took on poverty in
his 1964 State of the Union address, you did not find it tonight.
didn’t hear about expanding Social Security, a sensible plan supported
by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others. You didn't hear about getting to
full employment (but you did hear some conservative rhetoric about how
unemployment is really about workers not having the right skills, which
has been repeatedly debunked). You didn't hear about bringing justice to
criminal bankers who prey on hard-working Americas. You didn't hear
about asking the rich to pay their fair share in taxes, or putting a
financial transaction tax on Wall Street, or backing off the grotesque
Trans-Pacific Partnership, or ending too-big-to-fail, or taking real
action to get the money out of politics.
Instead of tapping into
the full power of the federal government to tackle our most urgent
problems, Obama meekly suggested that government might, in certain
cases, be obligated to do something. A little something. At some point.
mentioned a new retirement savings proposal. If your employer doesn’t
offer a retirement plan, which nowadays, usually consists of an
inadequate 401(k), then you would be able to deduct a percentage of your
paycheck to purchase Treasury bonds and eventually turn your account
into an IRA. Congratulations. You are now stuck with a do-it-yourself
retirement plan of the sort that has been not working out ever since
somebody got the bright idea
that ordinary people could transform themselves into sophisticated
money managers. The Economic Policy Institute recently released a study
proving that do-it-yourself retirement is driving economic inequality,
leaving regular Americans further behind than ever. But never mind.
Graff, CEO of American Society of Pension Professionals &
Actuaries, who has spoken with Treasury about the president's retirement
plan, shared his view with Politico
: “It’s not what I would describe as an earth-shattering move." You can say that again.
half the entire population is living at or near the poverty line, while
the rich have never had it so good in America. But no biggie.
theme tonight was America as the Land of Opportunity. “Opportunity is
who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore
OK, maybe not big opportunity. How about small opportunity? For some folks. Um, not really. Well, what did you want, a pony?
Lynn Parramore is an
AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding
editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt
in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.d in
English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's
New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.
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