Tuesday, January 12, 2016

President Obama's Final State of the Union Address

9:00pm ET

Waiting on the president to arrive and be announced by the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives.  Talking heads are chattering about Americans held hostage by Iran and their imminent release in a few hours.  The first lady and her guests have arrived.


The President of the United States has been announced and is making his way down the aisle, greeting supporters and other lawmakers who have staked out a place to be in the photo shoot.


The president is in the well of the House and has greeted Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Vice-President Joe Biden.  Speaker Ryan has introduced the president.

President Obama says the speech will be shorter so some of the attendees can get back to Iowa (laughter).  Praises Ryan for passing a budget in 2015 and expresses optimism to work towards criminal justice reform (applause).

Says the agenda should include paid leave, minimum wage increases, equal pay for equal work.

Focus of the speech is on the future...five years, ten years from now.  What will the world be like?  The world is changing and change will accelerate in the future.

President turns to speak of American exceptionalism.  Indicates we are unique and face every challenge with an optimistic view.  Says economic recovery, care for veterans, marriage equality all stem from the American quest for progress.  The challenge today is whether we face the future with fear or with the confidence we have faced it in the past?


Four questions:

  1. Economic equality
  2. Technology
  3. Security without policing the world
  4. Reforming our politics 
Longest stretch of job growth in two decades.  14 million new jobs in 6 years including 900,000 in manufacturing.  Deficits have been reduced by 3/4 in six years.  Says that idea that America is in decline is 'peddling fiction.'
Technology is allowing for much more rapid change than in the past.  Workers have less opportunity to advance, companies have less loyalty, and economic gains have concentrated at the top of the income spectrum.

Focus turns to education.  President argues that college must be made affordable for every student and family.  An education is not enough though, job security must be fought for.  President says the only people who will work the same job for 30 years with the same health benefits and pension benefits are the politicians in the room (uncomfortable look on the faces of many).

Argues for strengthening Social Security and healthcare.  Urges bipartisan reforms to provide unemployment insurance and job training for those who lose their jobs due to changing economy and technology.

Looks to bipartisan cooperation on fighting poverty (minor applause) and making sure system is not rigged for the wealthy.  Says outdated regulations and red tape need to be cut (Republicans applaud).

Says immigrants are not the cause of wage stagnation in America...that is a decision made in the boardrooms of America by the people who stash their money in overseas accounts.


Argues that we need to reinvigorate our technology industry.  Invokes the response to the fears Russians would beat us to the moon.  Mocks those who deny what they cannot see (Russians orbiting the earth...veiled reference to climate change?).

Announces new initiative to end cancer and names VP Biden to head the effort.

Mocks those who deny climate change and says we have to work harder for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future...clean energy.  Wind power is cheaper, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars, solar jobs pay better than coal mining, foreign oil imports reduced 60%, carbon pollution reduced more than any other nation.  I'm sure this will be fact checked.

Jokes about sub-two dollar a gallon gas.  Why isn't he responsible for that since he was blamed for four dollar gas?


 How do we avoid nation building and isolation at the same time?

Invokes the idea that America is the most powerful nation on earth to raucous applause.  Points out that we spend more on military than the next 8 nations combined, praises our troops as the finest fighting force in the world, surveys show the world still looks to the U.S. for leadership. 

Indicates the biggest threat to America today comes from failed states, not superpowers or evil empires.  Russia propping up client states, post-war system struggling to adapt to new realities.

Priority #1 is protecting Americans and fighting terrorists.  Al-qaeda and ISIL pose direct threat to Americans through use of social media campaigns, attacks without regard to own lives.  Claims that this is WWIII empowers ISIL, which must be stopped, but ISIL does not threaten our national existence.  Refutes the idea that ISIL represents Islam but is instead a bastardization consisting of killers and fanatics who must be rooted out and destroyed. 

If Congress is serious take a vote and authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Promises ISIL will learn the same lesson as terrorists before them.  Ask Osama bin-Laden how committed we are to getting and destroying terrorists. 

Foreign policy has to be more than just a focus on terrorism.  We must focus on the breeding grounds for terrorists.  We must work to eliminate the causes of terrorism but we cannot rebuild every failed state.  We must learn from past mistakes like Iraq. 

Says the Iran deal is working as Iran has shipped out some uranium supplies and a new war has been avoided. 

Urges Congress to approve TPP to allow the US to set the rules for trade in the pacific. 

Says restoring relations with Cuba was a step toward gaining more influence in Latin America.  Asks Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba and recognize that the Cold War is over. 

America is strengthened when we involve ourselves with world problems like hunger, HIV, malaria, etc.  That is how America shows it is strong and a leader. 

Promises to keep working towards shutting down Guantanamo prison. 


Reject politics that targets people by race or religion.  Says this is not about political correctness, it is about our diversity and openness, our respect for difference. 

Argues that politicians who use demagoguery are guilty of weakening America and betraying our core values.

The great American future can only happen if we fix our politics.  Vigorous debates are good for making progress.  Yet, Democracy requires basic trust among citizens.  It doesn't work when we accuse those we disagree with of being unpatriotic or when we listen only to those with whom we agree.

Americans feel like the system does not work for them.  Promises to work to bridge the divide between the parties.

Indicates that the time has come to stop drawing congressional districts so politicians can pick their voters.  End the influence of money in politics.  We should make it easier, not harder, for people to participate in the political process.

Change will not come until we the people demand it.  It won't be easy.  It's easy to be cynical and say that our actions don't matter.  We won't get where we want to be unless we're willing to work for it.

We've come a long way and we have a ways to go.  We can get there together when we see ourselves as Americans first and not define ourselves by our parties, our ethnicity, or our religion.

Ending the speech on a hopeful note, praising the positive in each of us, the selfless sacrifices, because of this the state of our union is strong.

The speech ended at 10:09pm


Monday, January 11, 2016

Road to the White House 2016

The race for the White House is in high gear now as we approach the first voting date of the year.  Iowans will caucus on the evening of February 1st and make their preferences known for both the GOP and Democratic nominees.  Twenty-one days out and what do we know?  The short answer is 'not much.'

The Democratic Race

The polls are all over the board although some consistency is beginning to appear.  On the Democratic side most polls show a tight race between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Martin O'Malley polls a distant third in every poll.  The question for longtime observers and political scientists like myself is whether the polls are valid indicators of preference at this point?  Primary and caucus polling is generally less reliable than general election polling because voters are choosing between candidates within their own party rather than between parties.  It is also much more difficult to know who will actually caucus or vote in a primary because many who indicate planning to vote actually do not.

Senator Sanders has shown a remarkable ability to raise money from small donations and has managed to keep pace with Hillary Clinton, though with a somewhat lower 'burn' rate (the rate at which the campaign spends its cash on hand).  For the year, Sanders raised about $73 million compared to Clinton's $112 million.  On the spending side, Sanders has spent about $45 million (61%) to Clinton's $74 million (66%).  Though being outspent by nearly $29 million polls show Sanders in a virtual tie with Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire (which votes February 9th).  What does it say about a front runner and presumptive nominee that has to spend a good portion of what she raises to stave off a challenge from America's only elected Democratic Socialist?  A loss in Iowa would almost certainly lead to a loss in New Hampshire for Clinton, which would spell trouble for a candidate long presumed to be the Democratic standard bearer.  Are we in for a repeat of 2008 with Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton trading wins in a long drawn out fight like the one she waged against then Sen. Barack Obama?  If so, it will be fun to watch but probably a nightmare for the Democratic Party.

The Republican Race

One thing that can be said about the Republican race is that the polls have been remarkably consistent for quite some time.  Unlike the previous two contests that featured outsider candidates rising to the top of the polls and then fading rapidly, Donald J. Trump has been first or second in nearly every poll since declaring his candidacy last June.  No matter what outlandish statement he makes or who he insults his support remains constant.  Sometimes it even grows stronger.  Trump also has one advantage that no other candidate in the race has: he doesn't need to raise money and run ads.  Trump is largely self-financing his campaign, which lends credibility to his statements about not being 'bought' by moneyed special interests.  This appeals at a basic level to a significant portion of the GOP base that is fed up with candidates appealing to the elites in the party.  In many ways, Trump's supporters see him as 'one of them' even though in reality they'll never own a private jet and bathe in a gold plated bathroom.  Trump has done a good job appealing to the most base elements of his party.  The question is whether they'll show up to vote in February?

Currently in second place in most of the polls of Iowa is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  Cruz has been consistently gaining on Trump for the last month and a few recent polls show him either a few points ahead or in a statistical tie with Trump.  Cruz's strengths are that he also appeals to the very conservative wing of his party, is seen as a relative outsider due to his opposition to most everything party leadership has wanted in Washington, and his fundraising has been strong.  The downside for Cruz is that there simply isn't room enough in an extended nomination fight for both he and Trump.  Something will give after the first few contests, though Cruz is looking strong in the southern portion of the Super Tuesday primaries labeled as the SEC primary that takes place on March 1st.  As long as he does well in Iowa and South Carolina it's a good bet Cruz is in it for the long haul.

Finally, the typical mainstream moderately conservative Republicans.  You know, the ones closer to Reagan than either Trump or Cruz.  There seem to be four candidates in this group now, three who have served as governors in states that have voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections (Kasich-OH, Bush-FL, Christie-NJ) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  All four are competing for the same spot, probably 3rd in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire.  If one of the four can accomplish that he probably secures his position as the race moves to South Carolina and Nevada before the March primaries.  The others, though Bush may be the exception due his large war chest, are likely to drop out shortly thereafter.

The fourth tier has no viable path to the nomination at this point.  This includes Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee.  Fiorina and Carson enjoyed some nice polling bumps last fall but have since fallen back to nothing more than an afterthought.  Dropping out of the race would benefit their party and add clarity to the race.  For that reason alone I don't anticipate them going anywhere before Iowans vote.

The Bottom Line

Donald Trump has every reason to feel good going into the caucuses and primaries over the next six weeks, as does Ted Cruz.  Hillary Clinton has good reason to be nervous and fear a repeat of 2008.  Bernie Sanders has a shot if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire.  The establishment in the GOP has every reason to be terrified of either a Trump or Cruz nomination as either could tear the party apart in a way we haven't seen since Barry Goldwater secured the Republican nomination in 1964.  The good news for the GOP is that it only took four years to emerge from the Goldwater debacle and it went on to win five of the next six presidential elections.  On the flip side, a loss in 2016 will mean the party will have lost the popular vote for president in six of the last seven elections.  That could be a harbinger of disaster given that the election is theirs to lose this year.