Debate Forum: 01/27

Forum Center: The highs, the sighs (and the lies?)

By Sarah Sidlow

Last week, President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address, in front of a congress fully controlled by Republicans for the first time in his presidency.

His address, which ran just shy of an hour, called for a number of extensions on existing Democratic policies, including a new approach to immigration. He also urged Congress to take a serious look at combating climate change, identity theft and cyber attacks, as well as passing a resolution to authorize using military force against the extremist group ISIS.

But the crux of Obama’s address focused on “middle-class economics.” He promised tax proposals that would boost middle-class families, like free education at community colleges, larger tax credits for childcare and education and a new credit for families with two working spouses.

To illustrate the trials of the American middle-class families who have struggled to make ends meet during the economic recession, Obama told the story of Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis, who had written to him earlier this year.

“It has been, and still is, a hard time for many,” Obama said. “Tonight, we turn the page.”

According to Obama, the state of our union is strong.

“… Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” he said. “Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he concluded.

As always, the night was not without emotion, and heated responses from all sides of the aisle.

As Obama began a new section of his remarks, he commented, “I have no more campaigns to run.” This drew loud applause from Republicans – to which Obama replied, departing from his prepared speech, “I know, because I won both of them.” He was met with laughter and “oohs.”

But aside from the public display, there are many in Washington and around the country who do not believe the state of our union is “strong.”

Sen. Rand Paul described the state of the union as “tenuous” when he delivered the Tea Party response to Obama’s address.

He focused his statements on balancing America’s budget, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.

“The path we are on is not sustainable,” he said, “but few in Congress or in this administration seem to recognize that their actions are endangering the prosperity of this great nation.”

Republican leaders tapped newly elected Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa to deliver the party’s formal response to President Obama’s address – an honor often given to a party’s rising star, and a way to introduce a future leader of the party to a primetime audience.

While she didn’t shy away from criticizing the president’s remarks, Ernst focused her response on the priorities of her party, which now holds a majority in Congress. She concentrated on the job-creation ideas forwarded by the GOP, exemplified by the Keystone jobs bill, which, she promised, can be achieved if Washington works together.

While the State of the Union address is no-doubt an important tradition in America, many view it as nothing more than a political pep-rally, an idealistic presidential wish-list that has become a predictable media specter. With so many different voices shouting from so many different platforms, it is difficult to feel we have any better grasp on the state of our union than we did before last Tuesday.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

What is the estate of the union?

Debate Left: Inspired speech; little chance of change

Response by Marianne Stanley

If God Himself (or Herself!) delivered the State of the Union address but wasn’t a Republican, S/He’d be met with the same icy stares and unreceptivity that President Obama was once again forced to endure. With the dawning of the age of punditry in this country, we saw civilized behavior and speech go the way of the dinosaur. How else could we explain the lack of applause for such things as Obama’s proposals to invest in education, infrastructure, childcare, sustainable energy and improved wages which poll after poll shows are high on Americans’ “wish lists?” Standing on principle is one thing; standing with locked jaws and crossed arms to signal permanent and all-pervasive opposition to any and all-things-Democrat is quite another.

The crazy-making part of all this is that we keep hearing how Obama is unwilling to reach across the aisle and be cooperative when it is the reverse. He has repeatedly attempted to co-opt and work with Conservatives, just to be given the cold shoulder. In fact, in Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview with Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they acknowledged Obama had indeed invited the “other side” to his home, only to be rebuffed by those unwilling to even be seen with the president of our country. When partisanship goes this far, we effectively have no government, and certainly nothing that even resembles a country that is supposedly “of, by and for the people.” 

Two things are hard to understand. 1) How could Congress object to granting working Americans a measly paid sick leave of just seven days a year, or boosting wages that keep even full time workers in abject poverty, or raising taxes on the wealthy to, perhaps, the 28 percent they were under idolized Republican President Ronald Reagan? All of those things are at least geared to relieve some of the ongoing and unearned suffering of our once robust middle class. 2) How in the world can the 99 percent not see that by supporting Republicans they are working against themselves? When the top 80 wealthiest people possess the same amount of wealth as 3.5 billion of the rest of us, also known as half the world’s population, you have to wonder why those of us who are footing the bill for their greed and extravagance are so willing to throw ourselves and our fellow citizens under the bus like that. No wonder other countries who have been observing us are asking if we’re insane. Only a crazy person would support policies that violate all the rules of human decency, stripping more and more away from the poorest among us to obscenely fatten the coffers of our wealthiest. When Canadians were asked if they minded paying for universal health care, the surprised response was, “No, why would we? If they need help, why wouldn’t we help them?” 

But here, the powers that be have their hands on the wheel and are driving the messages we all get day after day – messages that are dishonest, cruel, frightening. These are messages that say people that are poor deserve it or are lazy or not trying and just want government to be their nursemaid. The truth is, our government has abandoned its poorest to wet-nurse the rich brats who want not only what they have but what we have, too. For them, enough is never enough. Seeing our neighborhoods and cities crumble is like watching a vampire suck the last drop of blood from its victim.

We hear endlessly that Muslim terrorists are out to get us, feeding unreasonable fear and hatred. We allow white people and white cops to abuse, target and even kill people of color without a nationwide public outcry. We permit lies by not checking facts for ourselves – and yes, there is a difference between opinion and fact, though the Kochs and pundits have tried to tell us otherwise. Check out, for instance, the Keystone XL Pipeline story concocted by the far right and you’ll see that it will not create thousands of jobs except in its initial construction. But those will go away, leaving us with just a few permanent jobs but lots of environmental, health and irreversible problems. 

Obama called for some beautiful things: equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, higher minimum wage, free community college, fair taxation that levels the playing field rather than giving the primary tax breaks to those who need them least, action on climate change, the closing GITMO to help restore our standing in the world, a sorely needed restoration of our infrastructure, a free and open Internet, reducing our dependence on oil and fossil fuels, a lower tax on the middle class while closing loopholes for the rich, improved emphasis on education, diplomacy and coalition building rather than rushing to war, reform of our criminal justice system. Where will the money come from? We have more than enough to fund these changes. The problem is strong corporate lobbyists and billionaire-funding of political campaigns that have turned Congress against the rest of us. Paring our bloated defense budget and taxing capital gains is a good start.

Is the state of our union strong? Not even close. But maybe, just maybe, if all legislators take Obama’s words to heart – “to debate without demonizing. … To appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears” – this country can hold its head high again.


Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

Debate Right: Obama wants to be your mama

Response by David H. Landon

In reality, the State of the Union address has long since ceased being about the actual state of the union. Instead of a serious analysis or a realistic assessment of the threats facing the nation along with sharing a vision of possible solutions, the address has become an opportunity to score political points with the American electorate. Both parties engage in the practice, so I’m not singling out President Obama. Bush and Clinton as well as those who came before them practiced the same political practice. It’s simply that Obama has taken the practice and made it an art form.

It is clear from the president’s speech that he is of the opinion that government should play a role in the lives of American citizens that is interventionist, centralized and (at the risk of being accused of being a sexist, I would dare say) maternalistic.

I’ve been writing this column for nearly ten years. In one of my earliest columns I was asked to explain the difference between Republicans and Democrats. I gave an explanation then that I would like to dust off and revisit today. I think it could help to explain why the same State of the Union speech can receive such dramatically opposite opinions by Republicans and Democrats.

I believe Republicans and Democrats both share one very important thing in common. They share a love of this country and want the best possible life for all Americans. Over the course of our history, each party has taken on a very distinct role in their respective efforts to provide the type of government they believe will have the best chance to provide the “American Dream.” 

The Democratic Party pursues the goal by having government assume the role of a loving and doting mother. As such, the child (that’s us) is given every advantage Congress can legislate.  If we demand it, our mother will never deny our wishes. If we can’t afford it, well we’ll simply put it on the charge for future generations to pay. As a result, when Democrats have their way, we spend more than we take in, government gets involved in every nuance of our lives and freedom takes a back seat to the collective good. Under Democratic leadership, our government becomes a doting a mother who can’t say no!

The Republican Party pursues the same goals of providing a government that will create opportunities for the American Dream by having government take on the role of a father who must watch the family budget. That means sometimes saying no when the child demands legislation be passed when there is no revenue to support the venture. It means that when the request is for a program that is a “want” rather than a “need,” someone has to be the responsible parent and say no, and a Republican government feels obligated to play that role.

Barak Obama’s recent State of the Union is an example of doting mother on steroids. Under his leadership in the past six years we have already created a deficit which doubles the combined deficit of all 43 American presidents who came before him. In his latest State of the Union he requested billions of additional dollars of spending. This request for additional spending comes at a time when we are running an annual deficit of $483 billion dollars. The national debt has now topped $18 trillion. Eventually, we will run out of other people’s money.

In the congressional elections since 2010, the American public has sent an additional 86 Republicans to the United States Congress; with 77 elected to the House and nine to the Senate. These were national referendums on the policies of the Obama Administration and the voters resoundingly rejected those “tax and spend” intrusive governmental programs. But if you listened to the Obama State of the Union, you would never know it. He’s full steam ahead with the same spending policies that hamstrung the economic recovery, which after six years looks to be finally underway.  It’s no coincidence the states that have led the way out of our fiscal collapse are states where Republican governors have worked to reduce taxes and curtail burdensome regulations. The economy is climbing out of the longest recession in U.S. history, despite the misguided, business-choking policies of this president. 

While the 60-minute speech presented the president’s talking points on his domestic policy, it was nearly silent on the matter of America’s foreign policy. For good reason. On every front, from the ISIS threat throughout the Middle East, to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the failed “reset” with Putin, to the aggressive Chinese initiatives throughout the Pacific rim, to his new policy with Cuba, to the estrangement with one of our closest allies, Israel, to failing to support France in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, the Obama foreign policy is an unmitigated disaster. It’s little wonder he had little to say. 

So to what can we look forward? Obama has promised Democrats he’s going to “play offense” against Republicans over the next two years. While crying tears that the congress and president have to work together, he has threatened to veto any legislation that goes against his liberal agenda to ever expand the federal government, the voters be damned! 

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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