Wednesday, January 29, 2014

President Obama and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Puttin' on a Happy Face

I watched the POTUS' State of the Union Address from Honolulu. It was 4 pm, stormy and windy outside, and my husband was taking notes on the back of a discarded print-out of a dated news story. I leafed through a coffee table photo book of Hawaiian surf icons and made wisecracks at the well-delivered platitudes of our president during the applause that more than 80 times erupted from admirers in the House chambers.

I was impressed at the obviously well-rehearsed delivery. And wasn't it nice to hear unrelenting good news? He said the deficit was reduced by $2.5 trillion dollars! How wonderful, and how did that happen? The sequester...oh wait, our president says everyone agrees the sequester was "a really bad idea."

Pres. Obama says "the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population." And of course Obamacare adds to that coverage for stuff people don't necessarily want or need, while spending millions of tax dollars to cajole reluctant, healthy younger people to sign up. Advertising doesn't affect the debt much, I guess. But perhaps his never-mentioned $787 billion Stimulus Package might have?

Our president had a long wish-list of items to accomplish. "High Quality" preschool for all. "Redesigning America's high schools." Incentives for companies to hire the long-term unemployed. "A chance for every responsible homeowner in America to save $3,000 by refinancing at today's rates." A national minimum wage of $10.10."Tax credits, grants and better loans" for college students. Rewarding colleges for offering programs that lead to jobs. Why do I doubt whether any of these things should be a national responsibility rather than a state or local concern?

Teasers from the White House before the speech suggested bold moves by the President with a "telephone and a pen." No phone or pen earned mention in his speech, and his only pledge was to use his executive powers to work around the legislative process. That sounds pretty ominous, dodging the people's representatives.

Didn't our Founders limit the federal government to activities only an overarching power can accomplish, like defending our country, crushing terrorists, maintaining interstate highways and regulating immigration? Instead, I hear our President has a plan for every corner of life, and seemingly a commission, strategy or executive order to enact it. Just as the iconic character "Julia" benefited from government largesse from birth to death, if the State of the Union can be believed, no phase of our lives will escape the warm butter of Obama's soothing protection.

Unless we become successful and earn a lot of money, and then we face closed loopholes and more expensive prescriptions. I was relieved that Pres. Obama omitted the term "income inequality" from his speech. "Income Inequality" is the new code for last year's reviled "1%," the new bon mot of the politics of envy. Thankfully, we were spared the redistribution of wealth; could that be related to the president's reported $20 million advance for his memoirs?

Pres. Obama sure sounded polished. He paused expectantly for applause. He lilted in a perfect, practiced cadence with occasional 'hood inflection. He acknowledged the camera and nodded to his imported "example people." He seemed confident, with only a minor flub with "My IRA." I still don't know if it's pronounced "Myra" or separately, "My IRA."

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, getting to know you
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who I've met several times, is as sweet as she seemed, though not nearly as syrupy. She had a tough job as Republican "responder" to the POTUS' pronouncements. Without knowing the content of his speech, she needed to appear on top of things in words written in advance. Instead of labeling her talk as "response," it should have been called "Alternative view," because her real charge wasn't answering the Pres, but offering the GOP as the viable and welcoming alternative to Obama's Democratic advertisement. Rep. McMorris Rogers successfully showed  Republicans as salt of the earth, hard-working and earnest. And not much more, because the positions she offered were vague enough to sound compatible with the president's.

Both Obama and McMorris Rodgers want immigration reform and closed borders. They both want more jobs and economic responsibility without debt. They both want health care, but Republicans disdain Obamacare restrictions. Hers was not a response to Obama's content but rather an introduction--a youthful, feminine face for a party many identify with wealthy, out-of-touch, old white guys. If you wanted a response to the President, you had to go to post-event commentary by Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz (who seemed to me surprisingly on target).

Truth be known, the whole thing was a yawn unless you're already a politico. How many viewers watched the entire State of the Union Speech without interruption? Don't know but ratings show the 2014 event with the lowest number of viewers since 2000, 33.3 million people. Second lowest was last year's speech, with 33.5 million. Clearly, folks are losing interest, which parallels the President's favorability ratings. By contrast, the Super Bowl this Sunday is expected to break all records, including last year's high of 111.3 million viewers.

Admittedly, during the State of the Union, I took a phone call and missed a bit. Someone with me had his eyes closed at one point. Was there anything new or shocking or worth tweeting other than the sheer predictability of the event?

Pundits manufactured their comments, as expected, and until elections later this year, we can look forward to the same old, same old. In the meantime, I'm heading to the beach..

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