My own agenda…

I use to treat the State of the Union Address like my own version of the Super Bowl – an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry while consuming the massive amounts of information being beamed directly into my head from the well of the House and a few well-selected news sites. It was good times, even with the understanding that what was being delivered live on television was, at best, a wish list of ideas rather than any definitive statements of policy.

Politics for the most part has joined the increasingly large number of topics that I mostly lack the interest in dealing with on the wholesale level. Yes, there are a few areas I care passionately about and pay close attention to, but the broader discussion of how many times a speech is interrupted by applause, or who did something stupid 25 years ago, or gods forbid, said something that someone, somewhere might find in poor taste. I’m sorry, but the field in which I grow my fucks is desolate and barren. I have not one more to give on “issues” like those.

So, like the actual Super Bowl that preceded it, I will not be tuning in to hear the president’s remarks on the State of the Union tonight. I know I can rest assured that by the time I wake up tomorrow morning Twitter will be sure to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to think about it. I’ll read the highlights. Probably.

Congress and the president have their own agendas and I have mine. Between the three, I’ll let you be the judge of which one I think is the most important. 

The continuing state of (dis)union…

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Congress, honored guests, and fellow citizens:

In 1975 President Gerald Ford came before the Congress and reported that the “state of the Union is not good.” It’s a description that was as apt then, in the immediate aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam, as it is now. President Ford presided over an economy with 85 million workers and a national debt racing towards $500 million. Today there are 149 million Americans at work at the debt is a staggering $18.8 trillion.

We live in a country where one third of the people align with the right politically and detest and are detested by the 1/3 of the people who align with the left. The remaining third is either too enamored with the Kardashians, obsessed with the latest release on Netflix, or too stoned to care what else might be going on around them.

The global climate may (or may not be) changing depending on your trusted source for information. The military is being cut down to its smallest size since before America’s entry into World War II. Our borders are largely undefended. We’re beset by radical Islamic terrorism at home and abroad. And home grown militias are able to occupy federal buildings and property at will – all with little sign of having the national resolve to do much about it.

Our Constitution requires the president to give an annual report to the Congress and “recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” If pressed to give a real response to that requirement, I can only say that the state of disunion is strong and growing stronger – and I have no earthly idea what measures might be necessary, expedient, and popular enough to garner 50.1% of the vote in order to correcting that situation.

Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.

State of the Dis-Union…

There’s a formula to the State of the Union Address. After thanking the Speaker and the Vice President and maybe saying a few other passing remarks, President Obama is going to be “please to tell you that the state of the Union is strong.” It’s a powerful turn of phrase that’s been uttered in one form or another at every State of the Union Address that I remember hearing in the last 34 years… Which is exactly the problem.

Anyone with a set of eyes in their head can see that the state of the Union is not strong. There are two Americas with an ever-widening chasm between them. It’s not a division between black and white, or north and south, or even of wealth and poverty. It’s a division between right and wrong, of good people caught up in visceral disagreement about the fundamentals of what it means to be a part of this American experience. We’re divided by partisanship and by politics and by the very idea of what we expectSeal government to be and to do. It’s an existential question about the role we collectively expect government to play in shaping our lives and our actions. And everyone thinks their version of right is the only version of right. Our Union is not strong.

There is nowhere in time or space that I would rather be than America in the 21st century. Our generation is the one that can stand in the gap. The one that stands poised on the edge of something better or something far worse. The future doesn’t just happen because someone hands it to us well formed and happy. It has to be forged by real people doing the hard work of governing, of business, of and education. Those ideas don’t fight nicely into five second sound bites, though.

I’d give real money if the president showed up before Congress in a few hours and said simply, “My fellow Americans, the state of our Union is troubled.” But I’m not holding my breath.


State of the Union…

In the strictest possible sense, the state of the Union, is peachy. It’s not like we have states threatening to join up with Canada or Mexico or anything. We’re in the middle of a presidential election cycle where if the incumbent is turned out of office we’ll most likely see yet another peaceful transition of executive authority. Considering world demographics, even the least among us is doing better than the large majority of everyone else on the planet. We survived our capital city being sacked. We survived a brutal civil war and then fought in the war to end all wars before getting pulled into the war after that. In between these wars, we survived finical panics and Great Depressions, pestilence, and famine. Despite it all, we’re still here and managed to cure contagious diseases, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with nothing more than electrons. Keep in mind, we did all those things in our free time when we weren’t occupied dealing with the big stuff. That’s my big picture thinking about the state of the Union, anyway.

If you distill the state of the Union down to the question of whether you’re better off now than you were four years ago, the response probably isn’t as positive. There are plenty of people who can’t find work, can’t buy or sell a house, and at best have spent the last four or five years treading water at best and being pulled under at worst. It’s not an easy time for America and it’s not an easy time to be American. It’s easy to be an optimist when Wall Street only goes higher and unemployment runs at 3%. It’s a hell of a lot harder to be an optimist when you can’t find a job or you’re going to bed hungry at night.

So, you ask, what’s really the state of the Union? Well, it’s probably somewhere between the two extremes. That’s where reality tends to live. It’s neither as strong nor as weak as the pundits and politicos make it out to be. The United States, warts and all, is still the shining example of how to be a republic. Local, State, and Federal governments fight one another. Political parties fight with everyone. Even the separate branches of the same government are locked in Byzantine conflict. Somehow we muddle through without veering too far left or too far right. Dysfunctional as it is, the process is still a wonder to behold. With financial crisis spreading through Europe, our lifeblood oil flowing from the Middle East, and the supply chain for our consumer goods that stretches all over Asia, we Americans are once again learning that we have to engage with the world – the whole world. The future, and a far stronger Union, lie in the direction of cooperation, consensus, and international competition. It’s a hard lesson, but one well worth learning.