If, as so many political pundits predicted, the State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama was the kickoff for his 2012 re-election campaign, the president is in trouble. The rambling, unfocused and non-specific presentation to Congress was more like a very boring college lecture, except it lacked anything resembling proof to back up the theories being thrown out like popcorn to the pigeons. Simply put, the fire that was the Obama of two years ago has gone out, smothered in a wet blanket of wheedling pleas for bipartisanship to Republicans who have clearly professed their goal of making him a one-term president.
It's not hard to recall the excitement, joy and hope for a better future that accompanied Obama at the podium during his inaugural State of the Union speech. The rolling waves of applause filled the chamber as the huge Democratic majorities in Congress cheered the man who, against all odds, made history by becoming the first black president of the United States.
Obama's campaign slogan of "Hope and Change" stirred Americans to lift their weary eyes toward a new light on the horizon. We truly believed his every word—his commitment to average Americans, his determination to rein in the excesses of Wall St., to bring equity to the tax structure so the rich didn't continue to get richer while the poor fell through the cracks into dissolution and despair. We thought, at least for a little while, that a new day had dawned in America, that we had left behind the lying, spying, war-mongering administration of Bush and Cheney and were on the path back to national sanity.
But as time went on, the new president's promises began to fade. While millions of Americans lost their homes and jobs, Obama and his Wall Street advisers decided to throw the lifesavers to the same "too big to fail" banks, corporations and investment firms that brought down the economy with their wild, greed-driven, get-rich-quick schemes, their massive executive bonuses and the house-of-cards deceptions upon which it was all built. The common folk, whose votes brought him to office, simply vanished beneath the waves of economic distress.
In the meantime, hundreds of billions continued to flow toward the two futile, unjustified and unpopular wars started by George W. Bush. Although Obama promised all war costs would be contained in his budget, once in office the sorry practice of special "emergency" appropriations for the wars continued, billions continued to disappear, and the blood of Americans and the victims of both wars continued to flow into desert sands and barren mountains far from our shores.
Ironically, on the day Carol Browner, one of his top advisers on energy and climate change, departed the White House with no plans to fill or even maintain her position, President Obama used his speech in a weak attempt to re-define coal and nuclear energy as "clean" energy sources for the future. In the meantime, we were once again treated to promises of meeting sustainable energy goals 10, 20, or 40 years in the future–goals which no serious person could possibly predict with certainty.
Of course Obama was not alone in creating the collapse of his campaign promises. With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress by the largest majorities in decades, we hoped to see change come to fruition. But no. Instead we were treated to the health care follies, in which Montana's own Sen. Max Baucus turned not to the popular single-payer model used by almost all industrialized nations of the world, but to the bloated insurance industry that squats like a fat spider, sucking the juices out of the economy. And sure enough, the resulting legislation does not reform health care, it only marginally reforms health insurance. In exchange, it mandates that all Americans must buy health insurance by 2014 and has no mechanism whatsoever to control what the insurance industry may wring from desperate citizens.
The same Democratic-controlled Congress refused to cut military spending, preferring instead to keep the military-industrial complex rolling in taxpayer dough for pork barrel, home-district expenditures. Suggesting cutting $78 billion in five years from a military budget that is annually ten times that large seems ludicrous, at best—another illusory measure intended to placate listeners rather than cut one of the nation's single largest on-going expenses.
Or how about the repeal of the Patriot Act, the closure of Guantanamo's torture cells, and the restoration of America's reputation as an honorable, civilized nation? Here, the results are likewise severely disappointing to those who elected the Democrats and Obama to office. The Patriot Act has been extended, with new provisions to spy on Americans. Guantanamo remains open for business, if that's what you call it, and America's reputation remains what it was–a hypocritical bully on the world stage that substitutes military might for diplomacy, torture for decency, and deceit for transparency. If nothing else, WikiLeaks pulled back the curtain on all those charades.
And so, last November, the Democrats watched 68 seats and control of the House of Representatives go to the Republicans, the single greatest loss by any political party since 1938. It wasn't because Republicans were so great that we wanted to return to the sick days of George Bush's reign of error. It wasn't because the Tea Party lured voters with tea bags and tri-corner hats. It was because Democrats stayed home. With hopes shattered, the de-energized and disillusioned base of the Democrat Party could find little to motivate its vote again.
As blues singer Etta James once sang: "Your love is like trying to light a fire with a wet match–you won't even get a spark like that." Substitute "speech" for "love" and it sums up the State of the Union. We got lots of smoke from President Obama, but no light, no heat, and certainly no fire.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.