President Obama’s Last Bow

I watched, I enjoyed it and I think the president took pains not to take a victory lap. He didn’t try to introduce a wish list of items Congress will never give him. He was definitive that America is still the world’s Number One superpower and our military takes a back seat to nobody. Obama made it clear he isn’t going to cut ISIS and Al Qaeda any slack for the rest of his presidency and he used the word “terrorism” repeatedly.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.


But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.
If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.
Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

The President saved a backhand for Cruz

The President saved a backhand for Cruz

Obama rejected Donald Trump and the scare tactics and saber-rattling of Trumpism without ever mentioning him as well as dishing up a backhand to the absent Sen.Ted Cruz mocking his talk of “carpet-bombing” civilians areas in search of ISIS while firmly repudiating the singling out of Americans based upon sharing a religion with our enemies.

That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.

Obama also accepted his own failure to stem the partisan rancor and division in Washington which has now become rigid, systemic and seemingly irreversible.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.


But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task – or any President’s – alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. I know; you’ve told me. And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.

President Obama gave his last State of the Nation speech. It may have been his finest.

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Can Obama Get Off the Mat?

Obama said knock you out....but when?

A funny thing happened on the way to President Obama’s big jobs address given to a joint session of Congress.  Like so many things in this Chief Executive’s life even the relatively routine matter of getting the speech scheduled at a time of the president’s choosing became a major controversy.

The Tuesday Obama wanted to give his speech fell on the same night the Republican presidential challengers were scheduled to gather for a debate.   This sparked cries that the president was trying to big foot the Republicans so Speaker John Boehner asked the president to move his speech to Thursday instead.   The White House conceded to Boehner’s request and immediately the howls when up how Obama had caved to the Republicans–again.

But it also brought to light a different issue.  How little the GOP seems to respect this particular president.

When she was House speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California verbally tormented President George W. Bush. (Ms. Pelosi’s description of Mr. Bush as “an incompetent leader” comes to mind.) Dick Armey, a Republican former lawmaker from Texas and now a Tea Party leader, referred derisively to Bill Clinton as “your president” when speaking to Democrats. President Ronald Reagan sparred often with Democrats on the Hill.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said this year that his first goal was to see Mr. Obama defeated.

“The closest we have come to this was Tom DeLay’s hatred for Clinton when he demanded impeachment of him,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. “But that was one guy or a handful. Now it is much more widespread, and the toxicity is, and culture is different now.”

Mr. Ornstein pointed to the fight over the payroll tax cut sought by the Obama administration — one that many Congressional Republicans supported in 2009 but oppose now — as an example of Republicans’ opposing Mr. Obama even when they had agreed with him on a policy.

Mr. Obama has had his own contributing role. Often when he has met with Republicans he has taken a scolding tone that irks them. Even some of his fellow Democrats viewed his attempt to schedule an address on job creation before a joint session of Congress next Wednesday — the same night as a major Republican presidential debate — as clumsy if not downright rude. It then became embarrassing when Mr. Obama capitulated and changed the date to Thursday at 7 p.m., as Mr. Boehner wanted.

But the dynamic, which Democrats largely blame Republicans for, has irked many of them, especially on the Hill. “I think it is unprecedented of a leader in the Senate of either party to say the most important goal he has is to make the current president a one-term,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. “That is about respect, that is about priorities and it is just wrong.”

Julian E. Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton, said that when it comes to Mr. Obama, Republicans “just keep gaining confidence to force his hand.”

“While there might be a few people whose words have become nastier than usual, I think this is really the new normal in Washington with a president who is always on the ropes,” Professor Zelizer said. “I am not convinced that is about lack of respect so much as the feeling that this is a weak president. If the president seemed more powerful they would have returned the call.”

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Thursday that the administration spent “zero” time worrying about whether Republicans in Congress are showing the president the respect that the office deserves. “You guys care much more about this than we do,” he scolded reporters who asked about the relationship between Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans.

Ready to rumble?

I count myself among the ranks of the “you guys” that Carney dismisses.  If the president continues to act like a doormat he shouldn’t be surprised if Republicans wipe their feet on him.

Washington is a place of power and with power comes respect.  I’m not exactly sure how Obama can command the respect that is due him as benefits his office, but a show of strength might help.

Back in the day of the first George Bush, disrespecting presidents was called “the wimp factor” and since then every man that’s held the office has come in for more than the usual kind of criticism that’s expected.

Any president is going to face natural adversaries.  No matter how popular a president or his policies are, someone is going to dislike both intensely.

I’m not going to pull the race card (this time at least), because this is Obama’s fault to an extent.  Obama is slow to anger and even slower to show it for reasons I can speculate upon but hesitate to say.   Even if Obama knows in his heart of hearts some of the shit slung at him is based upon his race, he’d never say it out loud.  He’d be denounced as a whiner and it’s a fight he would never win.

Presidents can be seen as weak, even as ineffectual, but if they look like they’re going to cry because they get punched in the jaw, they’re done.  Nobody respects a crybaby.

I won’t be listening to his speech next week just to hear what he has to say about creating jobs.  That’s the most important part, but how he says it will matter just as more.

If he challenges the Republicans to step up and do something more than obstruct and oppose anything he proposes because he’s proposing it I’ll be pleased.  Some have suggested Obama has been playing defense and executing a clever version of Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy against George Foreman.

The thing is, Ali eventually came off the ropes to knock out Foreman.  If Obama’s strategy is to keep taking roundhouse rights and upper-cuts until the Republicans punch themselves out and get arm weary, it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

If he’s pleading yet again with the Republicans to hold hands and sing “We Are the World” and show his willingness to reach across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisan bullshit, I’ll retch and be disappointed as I choke down the bile rising in my throat.

Right now, I expect disappointment.  Obama needs a Ali-style knockout of a speech.  He’s past the point of covering up, clenching and jabbing as he waits to be saved by the bell.   The Republicans are coming to take his title.

I know Obama can fight.  I’m just not sure if he will.

Is Obama ready to fight for his presidency and his principles?