SOTU shows us reality and surreality
by Tom H. Hastings
Biden speaks to working Americans (mostly)
Ok, like a few million of you, I watched it. The 2023 State of the Union. Yes, for me it took a large glass of grapefruit juice and tequila, but I made it.
There were some low points. I really don’t appreciate equating American values with unbridled militarism.
There were some high points. I deeply appreciate lowering medical costs to seniors and I want that for every American.
At times the camera panned to Jabba the Hutt–I mean, sorry, Ted Cruz. He’s against prosperity for the working American. He’s against preserving Social Security. He even scowled during a few fairly bipartisan moments. Ugh.
But I did love when Biden said some Republicans were for reducing the Social Security and Medicare benefits. Some Republicans howled, audibly. So Biden dealt opponents to Social Security and Medicare a thundering, fatal (for now) blow. He congratulated the Republicans on calling him a liar for suggesting they wanted to tamper with these vital programs. He said, conclusively, great, no debate, we keep them as is. Biden went on in following days to document the clear truth in his initial assertion that, indeed, some Republicans, such as Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and others have been calling for some radical readjusting what are accurately called Trust Funds–sorry, Johnson and Lee, but you are evoking a fair amount of distrust in your unwelcome calls for such measures.
Equity and equality
Biden did a lot to stress both class warfare and racism. He did. It was fascinating to see the Democrat side of the chamber rise in applause for his problem-solving initiatives with the Republican side imitating the stock-still mimes who impersonate actual people, sitting in frozen, sitting, silence when such images were presented–except for the hardline grenade-throwers like Greene.
Pundits, even liberals from National Public Radio, missed this badly. Biden was clear and cogent, that if we approach this the right way, we will meet our interests as far as bringing manufacturing jobs to the US, even as we begin to experience fewer and fewer massive forest fires or devastating floods. We can reverse the trend toward more unnatural disasters if we get more proactive in radically reducing our carbon footprint and see fewer and less devastating hurricanes. Really, NPR, he made his points.
Shape-shifting party of destruction
In the bipartisan accomplishments, and in many of the announcements of good news for working Americans that Biden covered, it was instructional to see the camera revealing Democrats rising to applaud and Republicans sitting in stony silence–or even heckling.
These are not random Republican base activists, these are elected Republican representatives, some of whom have boldly and baldly lied about their very identities and their past. When we rhetorically ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” we are not actually being merely rhetorical. This is real. This is the absurdist drama in which we find ourselves.
I guess I’m just old. I recall Republicans Eisenhower, Mark Hatfield, and John McCain working frequently across the aisle to bring the prosperity to more and more Americans, as did Democrats John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Russ Feingold, and others from both parties.
But I also recall the extreme partisanship that began to place the well-being of everyday Americans a distant second in the goals, votes, and actions of some.
For me, the most egregious and startling signals came during the Bill Clinton years. Even as he, a Democrat who won handily, was appointing many Republicans to his cabinet, we were treated to a number of increasingly rightwing Republicans essentially announcing they had a top priority now: to block whatever Clinton wanted.
This same sort of hyper partisanship was even more pronounced when Obama, like Clinton, was in office and intentionally worked to give Republicans a real voice in his administration.
Now we see yet another set of examples of the Republicans, in particular, voting again and again against the wishes of the American people rather than advance the interests of the majority of working Americans.
· Polls show repeatedly that far more than half of Americans are in favor of a universal access to health care act, so that we finally catch up to the rest of the advanced world (e.g., Europe, much of Asia, portions of the Middle East and Africa, and some other countries in the Americas). Republicans have made a mantra of repealing the Affordable Care Act, just one crucial step toward the preferred goal of most Americans.
· More polls reveal increasing majoritarian support for more “red flag laws” restricting guns to people deemed a documentable risk, raising the age of owning certain firearms, and eliminating military weapons of war, primarily assault rifles, from our country. Republicans dig in and vote against us every time it has come up since the unfortunate sunsetting of the previous 10-year ban on those weapons of mass murder.
· At least some student loan debt forgiveness is favored by most Americans (though most are generally opposed to entirely ending student loan debt, especially for students who chose expensive private colleges and universities), but Republicans obdurately vote against such common sense measures.
This is not to suggest that Democrats always vote with the people. Not at all. But they tend to do so far more often than do Republicans. Biden attempted to convey that message in his SOTU address and he rose to the heckling from the hard right, showing that he was all in on bipartisanship but would not tolerate betraying the American people by, for instance, reducing or eliminating Medicare and Social Security.
I hope the vast majority of us are paying enough attention to get serious about upholding what is good and helpful for us. The devils are hyperactive in the details but, as we heard and saw, they reveal to all of us what they are willing to do if we are at all apathetic about it. As Edmund Burke reminded us, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is good people do nothing.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.