Report Card – A Brief Response to SOTU


He had a few different jobs to do from a few separate perspectives.

In the Eyes of the Left

He had to lay out his agenda in a definitive manner and avoid digressing from the party script. He had to concede little and give the Republicans much to mull over. He had to acknowledge the presence and potency of the new House majority, but suppress its voice to the best of his ability. He had to talk about guns — in light of Tucson — and talk about civility in light of the political climate. He had to promise to veto a healthcare repeal and vow to protect the middle class. He had to win over the “green” people, make education a priority, and address immigration reform. The list was endless. From the outset, the Democrats were not likely to be pleased.

From this perspective: B+

He covered most issues and did, in fact, present his agenda. Contrary to White House spin before the event, his speech was pretty partisan. It was sprinkled with a unifying tidbit here and there, which made it seem like somewhat “kumbaya”-esque. He neglected some key social issues (evidently for political purposes), but for the most part, his speech didn’t concede too much.

In the Eyes of the Right

Was there anything that the president could have said that would have pleased the right? Well, he could have said that he supports full gun-ownership rights and would be more than willing to sign a repeal of the healthcare bill. He could have said that taxes on the rich needed to be lower and that the issue of the declining quality of public education should take a backseat to more ‘important’ problems like regulation. He could have said that our two wars needed to be continually waged until every building in Baghdad and Khartoum is burned to the ground. In other words, to please the Republicans, he would have had to become a Republican.

From this perspective: D

He was partisan in one direction.


I haven’t seen a whole lot of coverage of this element of the speech but I thought that the way the chamber looked during the speech was fascinating. For example, because the members were so intermingled, even when Obama spoke a line that only Democrats stood or applauded for, it looked as though the entire House chamber rose.

I also found a somewhat disheartening irony in the appearance of the House chamber. For the sake of unifying around a common cause, each member of Congress (among others working on the Hill) wore a white and blue-striped ribbon on his or her lapel. This was intended to honor the victims of the shooting in Tucson and keep Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — who was shot in the head — in Congress’ thoughts.

Here’s the irony: each Democrat wore the ribbon on his or her left, each Republican on his or her right. Nice job, Congress.


Ostensibly, the SOTU was a call for unity. If ever there was a place where the idea of unity and cohesion could take precedence over partisan gridlock and resistance to compromise, it would not be Capitol Hill. And Barack Obama knows that, which is why he sugar-coated his speech with a bipartisan flare. But the agenda that he set out in his speech covered left-wing talking points. The vitriolic mood is going nowhere.

Lessons from a Little Old Lady – How Kinship Can Eclipse Polarization

Sunday night at dinner, as I was poking and prodding at the final remnants of my butternut squash ravioli, my grandfather turned to me and — in that matter-of-fact tone that only a family patriarch can pull off — said, “Ami, here’s a story for you.”

He and my grandmother had flown from Los Angeles to Portland on Friday morning. When they took their seats on the plane, my grandfather became engaged in a conversation with — as he put it — “a little old white lady.” As their conversation progressed, the woman shared with him that she was on her way home from Tucson where she had traveled to listen to President Obama’s speech at AU.

My grandfather was taken aback. He wondered why she hadn’t just watched it on television like the rest of the world, why she’d cared so much about something so distant, why someone so frail would expend so much energy to fly to an unfamiliar place. The woman smiled at my grandfather. “Because,” she said — as though the answer were obvious — “he’s our President.”

Two years ago, Barack Obama was elected on camaraderie’s coattails. The “hope and change” mantra of his campaign was a point of cynical contention from the right, but the desire that it represented was very real and deeply rooted in the contemporary American psyche. The country had a profound thirst for something new and fresh.

But even in the wake of such an overwhelming mandate of optimism, polarization has triumphed over brotherhood, gridlock has transcended compromise — and history has repeated itself. We’re stuck again in that vicious cycle: as political vitriol morphs into physical brutality, the country takes a brief step back to self-assess. The shooting in Tucson has momentarily united us — but it’s only a matter of time until that harmony will wear off and we’ll be back to our usual, comfortable division.

How do we know that? Because nine years ago, when the towers fell, stars and stripes blanketed our nation and the American populace took on a patriotic, altruistic flair. But when the dust settled, what emerged was that pervasive with-us-or-against-us mindset (which consequently paved the way for a streak of impulsive choices and continual polarization). It wasn’t long before “kinship” and “unity” had been erased entirely from the American lexicon.

And forty-three years ago, a significant portion of our nation rallied around a preacher whose stated goal was to end the madness, end the division, end the segregation. But the recurring segmentalist nature of our country made sure that he didn’t make it to the promised land. Even then, malevolence overturned any sort of mutual allegiance we had to one another.

We need more little old ladies.

If we all did away with blind cynicism and acrimony and instead maintained a state of mind that promoted communal dependence and patriotic loyalty to one another, Washington’s gridlock would disappear in a heartbeat — and so would the nation’s. Hostility casts a shadow on our world. But in darkness, all it takes is one flicker of light to see our path.

In memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., I aspire to live in a country where civility outshines anger, where camaraderie outshines discrimination, and where little old ladies are the lights that guide us on our way to getting there.

The Blame Game – Why Finger-pointing is Inappropriate in Tucson’s Immediate Aftermath

An opaque fog still shrouds the entire affair, but in the aftermath of Tucson, the fingers are already pointing.

A valuable quality during times like this these — days and weeks that follow events that we wish we could do away with entirely — is the conscious decision to be understated. In a loquacious world, silences are often more effective and meaningful than any amount of words could be. Silence and understatement are steeped in wisdom and patience. They testify to the notions that impulsive fury and knee-jerk conclusions are dangerous waters to wade into — even in times of extremity.

But we live in a society whose mouth never shuts, whose attention span is minimal, and whose decisions are rash. The lights that emanate from our laptops and BlackBerrys keep us awake even when we’re asleep. The news cycle is stuck on repeat and the talking heads never stop talking. We use our voices far more often than we use our ears. There is very little about American life that is understated. It seems as though each of us feels a little bit more passionately about issue x than the next guy; each of us is just a little more correct, a little more informed than the next guy. When it rains, it pours.

This is a time to be understated.

What transpired in the Tucson Safeway on Saturday morning was a calamity. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to lift a lethal weapon to the face of another human being. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to look life square in the eyes with the sole intention of ending it. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to be able to bring oneself to pull the trigger and spray a barrage of bullets at an open, innocent, youthful, human crowd. And for that, in these fleeting moments that come on Saturday’s tail, we can’t blame a website. We can’t blame an ad. We can’t blame a politician and we can’t blame a party. We can’t blame a movement and we can’t blame an ideology.

Civil discourse is depleting and the level of hostility in the political arena is high. Elements of each of these entities could have been factors in the shooting’s equation. But none of them is to be blamed for the assassination attempt of a member of our legislature or the murder of Dory Stoddard, Dorothy Murray, Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Scheck, John Roll, and Christina Taylor Greene. The blame game isn’t constructive. America needs to take a deep breath, unclench its fists, and put its pointer fingers down; for there is not fairer judge than time. And time will exert its wrath upon the perpetrator of this egregious act. In this noisy world, it isn’t quick conclusions that bring about justice. It is silence — to listen — and scrutiny — to find — that guide us along the right path.