This past Tuesday evening, President Obama delivered his very last State of the Union (SOTU) address. As is customary, conservatives were given the opportunity to present their own version of how we’re doing as a nation. Chosen to give that speech was South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley. Both orations are deserving of the commentaries that follow.
In his last appearance before members of Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Justices of the US Supreme Court, Obama offered up an itemized handful of economic statistics (*), all of which reflected the extent to which we have recovered from the Great Recession of 2008. Having done that, the president was quick to acknowledge that much still remains to be done and singled out the nagging problem of income inequality as being in need of urgent attention.
Next up, the president identified four major areas that should demand our nation’s focus and attention, not just in his final year in office, but for the next decade ahead. In this context, he: (1) urged a thoughtful, deliberate approach to dealing with ISIS; (2) against giving in to the fear-mongering and drumbeats for war that can plainly be heard coming from conservatives (**); and (3) prompted Congress to pass an ISIS war resolution, something that legislators have refused to do in spite of the multiple attacks and threats of same attributed to that terrorist group. (+)
Nearing the end of his address, Obama provided what your blogger viewed as the most dramatic part of all that the president had to say. Specifically, he spoke of the threat to our democracy that will only grow if we persist with our polarization and related unwillingness to join hands and work towards common goals. In a moment of candor, the president cited as one of his few “regrets”, his failure to bring us closer together.
This was a good speech, though it lacked the rhetorical heft of some of his earlier addresses. But, it was timely, lucid, well-delivered and heartfelt.
Two parts of the governor’s speech remain praiseworthy because they so dramatically departed from previous post-SOTU responses by the opposition party; i.e. she admonished conservatives to “turn down the volume”, not heed the “siren call of the angriest voices….” (++) and to assume some responsibility for the sorry state of our national politics. As she put it “…there is plenty of guilt to go around”.
Beyond the foregoing, Haley ran through the expected laundry list of conservative talking points detailing all they would do to heal the nation and problem-solve. Much of this involved what Republicans would undo; e.g. Obamacare.
Knowledgeable folks with a sense of history have called Haley’s speech, one of the best and that’s both a fair and accurate assessment. It truly is something extraordinary when the person chosen to give the post-SOTU response seizes on that opportunity to diss their own party.
The “one-two punch”
Both the president and governor used key spots within their remarks to make veiled references to the demagoguery that has become so prevalent in some quarters on the right. Most people assumed that these jabs were aimed at Primadonald most certainly, and perhaps even Ted Cruz. Well after her performance was over, Haley was pointedly asked if she was indeed referring obliquely to the GOP’s front-runner. She explicitly and directly allowed that she was and didn’t miss a beat in the process. Asked why she had chosen to criticize her own party, the governor essentially stated that she said what she believes and showed not the slightest inclination to back down or qualify her remarks. This is what political courage looks and sounds like and she may pay a heavy price among conservative voters for speaking her truth.
*Within 48 hours after the president’s address, fact-checkers had vouchsafed his statistics. The only qualification offered by these “watchdogs” was that all Obama’s numbers had to be referenced to very specific base figures.
**Here was the implied reference to Primadonald.
+In what has become a predictable act of hypocrisy, Republicans have loudly lambasted the president for not doing enough to combat ISIS, yet cannot bring themselves to pass a formal war resolution against the terrorists.
++This was Haley’s poke at Primadonald.