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SOTU: The Morning-After Let Down

Posted Jan 29 2010 2:35am

category_bug_politics.gif In the end, Crabby Old Lady surrendered to the State of the Union address on Wednesday evening. It's difficult for a hardcore Washington watcher to ignore big political moments, and it's just easier to see it live than play catchup in the morning.

What's not to like about President Obama when he turns on the rhetorical charm. Plus, he shares with Vice President Biden an irresistible smile that makes Crabby Old Lady feel good. Most of all, behind his public face, there is evidence of actual thought which has been an ongoing relief for Crabby after the eight years of the previous administration.

It was a good speech – as far as it went. He touted his modest successes, scolded Congress and both political parties, said some of the right words about middle class hardship and jobs and, the best moment of the speech for Crabby, bit the ankles of the Supreme Court – six of whom were sitting directly in front of him - over their corporate personhood decision. Privately, Crabby gave him a B minus.

So why did she wake up Thursday morning feeling dejected about the state of our union?

. . .

Crabby wrote that sentence at about 10AM yesterday. This one is being written at 4PM. In between, she has wandered around the house doing a few mindless chores while trying to find the answer to that question. (Talk about writing yourself into a corner.)

Six hours later, Crabby may have found it:

None of the proposals in the president's speech are bold enough. Although he seemed to be trying to empathize with the hardships under which the country is struggling, it felt tepid. Crabby did not sense that he understands the rage and anxiety pretty much everyone has been living with every day for nearly two years.

That's the short version.

This is the harshest era of economic difficulty since the Great Depression. We all know unemployment is twice the official number. Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure. Newly minted graduates cannot find their first jobs. No one, including the president, mentions anymore that the collective savings of Americans were decimated by more than ten trillion dollars in the 2008 crash. (On that point, elders have been particularly hard hit because they have no hope of recouping their losses.)

Additionally, salaries have been flat for more than a decade while the cost of essentials has steadily increased. Out of curiosity, Crabby checked some current employment ads for the kind of work she was doing the last few years before she retired; salaries are about half what she was paid.

After nearly a year of work in Congress, health care reform is still not finished and what exists on paper has been so neutered, it can hardly be called reform. Millions of kids in the U.S. go to bed hungry at night. And untold numbers of adult children, having lost their jobs, would be living in the streets if mom and dad hadn't welcomed them home.

Anyone not living in the bubble of the Washington political scene can feel the anxiety in the air. On Wall Street, the numbers crunchers tell us the recession is over; on Main Street, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, suspecting it will hurt even more than the first one. Is it any wonder seething rage at multi-million dollar bank salaries and bonuses is also everywhere?

Crabby is not telling you anything you don't know. Her concern is whether the president knows - he lives a long way from Main Street.

Or, maybe the problem is that for all his soaring rhetoric, Obama cannot connect, in the style of President Roosevelt's fireside chats, on a visceral level that Crabby, for one, wants to hear. She also believes that if he could make that leap, his proposals and actions would be the bolder, bigger and stronger ones the country needs.

But he can't do that by clinging to the fantasy of bipartisanship. The Republicans have no intention of working with the president; they prove with "no" every day in Congress. As to the Democrats, Obama is the leader of the party and it's time to take charge. It might be useful to read up on Lyndon Johnson.

Even if the president can find the outsized courage for the audacious moves our times call for, it will be years before there is equilibrium again - when there are enough jobs to go around, banks return to reasonable lending practices to keep the economy on an even keel and people can again plan for their futures. Whatever the president does or doesn't do, our patience is called for.

We elders know a lot about that. The oldest TGB readers grew up during the Great Depression. Those of us who are a bit younger heard the stories from our parents who did and we learned how to scrape by in hard times.

Our troubles are every bit as deep as during the Great Depression and need a much greater effort than Crabby Old Lady heard from the president Wednesday evening.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Quotes

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