To understand President Obama’s State of the Union speech, you have to understand his political strategy. From the beginning of his 2008 campaign, his main constituency has always been the major media. He has always calculated that he can win without the energy companies and even some other big campaign donors, but not if the mainstream media doesn’t like him. So a little bit of populism on the tax issues – e.g, the Buffet Rule - is now acceptable, especially in the context of deficit reduction and Republicans’ pro 1 percent extremism.
The other key constituency is the swing voters – he is taking Democrats for granted – which for the last four decades have been composed largely of white working-class voters. According to the leading Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the speech was effective with swing voters. So, overall a success for Obama.
And the people? There were a lot of specific proposals around energy, education, skills training, infrastructure, etc. But with the President committed to the silly goal of deficit reduction, with Republican obstructionism, and Obama’s general lack of willingness to fight for human needs – remember his promises of a public option in health care reform? Or labor law reform? – I’m not holding my breath. Especially employment – can’t do much about that without federal spending. And seniors, hold on to your wallet when he mentions “strengthening Social Security.”
His foreign policy is much worse – “all options on the table” for Iran, which is code for the threat of yet another war. No commitment to get out of Afghanistan. When he talks about how “America is back” with “the enduring power of our moral example,” I see images of U.S. soldiers pissing on corpses, drones slaughtering civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, massacres like Haditha (with impunity).
“Above all,” he tells us, “our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.” This could hardly be more false. America has lost more freedoms in the last decade, including during Obama’s presidency, than any other developed democracy in the world; and nobody fighting these unnecessary wars is defending our freedom.
This post originally appeared in The Guardian.