After watching the State of the Union address, Sen. Marco Rubio’s response on behalf of the GOP, reading some blogs and tweets and ruminating on all of it while doing the dishes, here are some of my take-aways.
On the economy—the issue many were predicting to be forefront of the address—the president was vague and defensive. He highlighted that consumers were now protected while the fact that Americans still aren’t consuming hung heavy in the air. Same with the remark that we have “cleared away the rubble of crisis,” acknowledging recovery still eludes us. He pleaded with lawmakers to make “basic decisions” about the budget, but the basics are precisely where we’ve been stuck. We already know the sequester would be “harsh.” Sen. Rubio at least reminded Americans the sequester was Obama’s idea.
I was surprised early on when the president said that cutting Medicare and Social Security would be even worse than cutting education, that these entitlements for the elderly are more important than educating our youth. The remark earned a standing ovation from his party.
Still plenty of “fair share” rhetoric. As readers here know, that kind of talk bothers me quite a bit because I get the sense that, for the president, wealth disparity is a moral wrong in itself. Were he to tie the idea to tax reform, he might get me on board. As it was, the tax reform remarks seemed designed to portray his opponents as the only ones guilty of giving favors. I found it interesting that his most impassioned attack against corporate loopholes received only tepid applause.
The president announced we are suffering from a crisis of crises, suggesting they were being “manufactured” by Congress. (As many will recall, it was the president’s own chief of staff four years ago who uttered the immortal line about never letting a good crisis go to waste.) The president seemed to be referring to Republicans’ positions on spending cuts to address the growing debt and deficit. Far from “manufacturing” a crisis, Republicans believe the debt and deficit is already a crisis, or at least one in the making that requires prompt and meaningful action. Moreover, as the president made clear later on with his impassioned plea to address the crisis of gun violence (“they deserve a vote!”) and climate change (we’re “all in” on clean energy!), he’s not done governing via crisis as long as it’s the right kind of crisis.
The president did promise we would not see “a single dime” added to the deficit, and that we would not get a “bigger” government on his watch, just a “smarter” one. This was the most conciliatory line in the address concerning philosophy of government.
Several references to new investments, like 3D printing. I’m in favor of necessary infrastructure investments: so long as our economy is going to grow (an existential assumption everyone is willing to make), then roads, water, waste disposal, and other basic infrastructure is a no-brainer. But government-as-venture capitalist in things like 3D printing and high speed rail (“ask any CEO”? really?) are far beyond what I’m comfortable having government get involved with. The president’s awkward joke, which fell flat (“I’ve seen all those ribbon cuttings”), speaks to how well these kinds of investments have worked so far.
I was puzzled at the president’s plea to make more funds available so that more people could buy houses. I’m not an economist, but isn’t that how the last housing bubble got started?
Didn’t California try making preschool available for everyone, and wasn’t it a big boondoggle that didn’t work as hoped? I’m sure the president is right that children who start school early do better in life. I’m also willing to bet that’s as much or more to do with the fact they have parents who care enough about education to put them in preschool. Putting that aside, I’d put this compromise to the president: attach school choice to a preschool funding bill and you’ve got a deal.
Totally agree about keeping college costs down. I’m actually impressed the president proposed that, though I guess I should wait to see what kinds of programs he’s looking to defund.
I’ll give the president this on his proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour: He’s committed to the “fairness” meme, even at the expense of opportunity. The consensus seems to be that increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment. And many of the people we wish to help—the people who make a living at minimum wage—don’t exist, as they typically stay at entry-level wages for only a short time. Second household earners often work part-time, and part-time jobs are made even less available because of minimum-wage laws.
I don’t know what the president has in mind when he says he wants to make voting “easier.” I already worry about how ill-informed most voters are. And how easy does voting have to be? Perhaps I’m not allowed to pass judgment on this because I’m lucky enough to have the leisure time to engage in politics. But here’s a reform I’d insist on in compromise: Remove the role of secretaries of state and attorneys general in characterizing candidates and initiatives. Just put the names of candidates without titles or backgrounds, and the numbers of initiatives. Voters can read biographies of their candidates and the full text of proposed initiatives can be made available online, in public libraries, and in polling places. If they don’t care enough to become minimally informed about their votes, they can self-select out. As things stand, too many voters enter the polling place to place a single vote—for president, say—and wind up also voting for other candidates or issues based solely on the brief summaries supplied on the ballots. And there is reason to suspect that secretaries of state and attorneys general skew those summaries for political reasons.
And then we come to the dead children and Gabby Gifford who “deserve a vote” on gun control—apparently a legitimate crisis, in the president’s view. I don’t have very strong views on background checks and most of the other proposals on offer, but the president’s demand for a vote was only a thinly veiled warning that a “no” vote would be tantamount to spitting on kids’ graves or something. Also, no reference to Christopher Dorner, whose tour of terror puts a very different spin on the issue of guns and personal safety.
I liked the president’s remarks near the end of the address about the need for and the meaning and obligation of fathers. I also liked the remarks about the need for good citizenship, even though I suspect the president understands the “obligations” of citizenship differently than I do.
Senator Marco Rubio’s response was strong, particularly in light of the fact that responding to the State of the Union is an unenviable job. He was gracious but tough with the president, highlighting differences in governing philosophy, that the president is wrong to find so many solutions in government. He has a remarkable personal story and shared it warmly and effectively, explaining he has every intention to protecting Medicare for people like his mom, and his dad before losing his battle with cancer. He also effectively ties in the fact that he not only sympathizes with the middle class, he still lives in his middle class neighborhood, relied on federal student loans, and just recently finished paying them off. He uses these examples to effectively demonstrate that the new conservatism means protecting the solutions government already provides and people rely on, and that continuing to ignore needed reforms for the sake of rolling out new “job-killing” regulations and programs risks those existing programs—not to mention diminishes opportunities for middle class Americans.
Sen. Rubio also explains how his party has gotten a bad rap, such as when they are accused of “wanting dirty water and dirty air” when resisting complex regulations, or “wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves” when pushing entitlement reforms. It was heartening to imagine people listening to this genuine, reasoned response from a likely person like Rubio.
If I had one suggestion for Sen. Rubio, other than staying better hydrated, it would have been to link the president’s call for tax reform to his repeated insistence for “fairness.” Sen. Rubio is a darling of the Tea Party, and the Tea Party has a solid track record on attacking crony capitalism and tax loopholes. This would have given a tangible example to illustrate how Republicans are every bit as much in favor of fairness as the president claims to be.