More than a speech, State of the Union is now a season

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

31.7 million people watch Obama’s State of the Union speech.

WASHINGTON — President Obama made four veto threats, asked Congress to pass seven or eight bills, and announced an executive action on paid sick leave Tuesday.

That’s the smallest viewership for a State of the Union speech since 2000, when Bill Clinton attracted an audience of about 31.5 million people for his last of these addresses.BOISE, Idaho — President Barack Obama is in conservative-leaning Idaho, saying he still has hopes he can bridge the ideological gaps that have created gridlock in the nation’s capital.But make no mistake: Republicans were quick to signal their defiance as well, as the president put forward an ambitious domestic agenda that surprised some given how badly his fellow Democrats were beaten in congressional elections back in November. He tells an audience at Boise State University that like the school’s football team overtime victory in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, he too can achieve success late in his presidency. As predicted, Republican responses to the speech ranged from dismissal to anger—or rather, mock anger; since it has always been clear that Republicans would reject anything Mr Obama were to offer up, their condemnations of his failure to reach out were pantomime too.

Photo: AFP Cyber security, surveillance, and a free and open internet were tech-related key words in President Barack Obama’s address broadcast live across the United States on Tuesday night in a 59-minute speech that acts as a policy wish list for the US President. Nearly 33.3 million people watched Obama last year, but that fell short of the roughly 52.4 million viewers who tuned in when he made his first speech in 2009 before a joint session of Congress as the newly elected president. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, inadvertently captured the circular logic of the situation: “For him, it’s all 2016 partisan politics now, and Republicans shouldn’t waste time debating the merits of the president’s political talking points.” Of course, if Republicans are unwilling to debate the merits of Mr Obama’s proposals, one can hardly expect him to deliver anything other than political talking points.

He reminded members of Congress in the House chamber and Americans watching at home that he came into office in 2009 promising to work to bring the country together in the wake of a devastating economic recession. “Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns,” he said. “Imagine if we did something different. Among the Big Three networks, CBS trumped its rivals , drawing an initial 7.3 million viewers at the start, compared to NBC with 5.2 million, and ABC 4.6 million.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.” But Republicans don’t seem to be in a mood to buy into the president’s calls for unity and compromise. Despite a long-term trend of lower ratings — or perhaps because of them — the White House aggressively promoted the speech via social media: from interviews with YouTube celebrities to Facebook posts of Obama’s tan suit; from 140-character posts on Twitter to the long-form Medium, where all 6,493 words of the speech were posted in advance. “The goal of this speech was to set the groundwork for more speeches,” said William Howell of the University of Chicago. “I was struck by how few times he called upon Congress to take specific action. Fresh off their sweeping election victories last November that gave them full control of Congress, they seem just as determined to push their themes of smaller government and fewer regulations.

The address was carried live from 9:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. on 13 networks — ABC, Al Jazeera America, Azteca, CBS, CNN, Fox, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Galavision, MSNBC, MundoFox and NBC — and tape-delayed on Univision. Fox News coverage afterwards that featured analysis by Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly also led the numbers, garnering 3.5 million viewers, Nielsen said. Efforts last year to curb NSA powers failed in the Senate but the President said a report is expected in February that will offer suggestions on how to balance security with civil liberties. “As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks,” he said. CNN did enjoy a victory among the key 25-to-54-year-old set, pulling in a million from the demographic, compared to 934,168 of the age group who preferred Fox. And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas,” Obama said. “So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.” Obama visits Idaho and Kansas on Wednesday to continue rolling out details of the often ague policy proposals he outlined Tuesday night.

Twitter activity spiked near the end of the telecast following Obama’s reference to the fact that he has no more campaigns to run, having “won both of them.” Also on his to-do list: addressing tax loopholes that allowed tech giants like Apple and Google to avoid paying significant US taxes and establishing free community college programs – approximately equivalent to a technical college in Australia – for students. “For far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight,” Obama said. It is the same old ‘go-it-alone’ approach.” The president is proposing higher investment and inheritance taxes for the very wealthy and then using that revenue to help the middle class.

Traditionally, a response to the President’s speech comes from the opposition party and this year the duty fell to Republican senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. It just doesn’t work that way,” said Matthew Dickinson, professor of political science at Middlebury College. “He’s still going to have to come back to Washington.

So far this year, Obama has stiffed the GOP agenda.”) Those of us sick of all this talk of empathetic nods and inches given or stiffed would prefer to find some way to talk about the content of governance. The only technology issue referenced by Ernst, who wore camouflage-patterned heels for the occasion, was acknowledgment of tax reform and the need to address cyber security – couched equally alongside pledges to counter Iran’s nuclear program and abortion. But for Republicans, raising taxes is a non-starter and they also shift the president trying to shift the playing field in terms of issues as both parties look ahead to the 2016 presidential election. But one can look at its political reception to gauge whether this is an issue that effectively advances the Democrats’ attempts to force Republicans to take unpopular stances.

In the next few months others are expected to announce their intentions including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Since the only hope of getting significant legislation passed in America now seems to be winning an electoral trifecta and gaining control over the presidency and both houses of Congress, the first key question to ask about any proposed legislation is whether it furthers that goal for the party that proposed it.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also have indicated interest, as have former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The picture is much different on the Democratic side, of course, as loyalists wait for the expected announcement from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For example, is the Earned Income Tax Credit still the best way to address inequality, or does it fail to reach the poorest because they are unemployed?

The key, though, is to look at policy proposals not in isolation, but as moves in a long game that gradually determine the shape of policy proposals on each side. But it’s a pantomime of actions and attitudes that are real, or may eventually become real if one side amasses the power to push legislation through America’s hopelessly creaky, antiquated, broke-down political system. In that case there probably isn’t much point paying attention to American democratic politics at all, and I recommend switching to a good hockey match.

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