Posted by: sweeneyblog | February 8, 2011

State of the Union Recap: Promises

Note: This article will appear in the March issue of the Whatcom Watch.

President Promises 1 Million Electric Cars by 2015

On Jan 25th, the President addressed both houses of Congress and the nation to speak about the state of our union. This tradition is drawn directly from the Constitution:

“He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” -Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

A noble idea, that the chief executive should report back to the legislative branch and the nation his intentions and philosophy for the coming year. Sometimes these speeches can be lively, introducing far reaching concepts and plans (think Bush 2003 with the buildup toward the War in Iraq and “Yellow Cake Uranium.”) Or they can rehash old fights, laying out lines of attack on opponents or changing the national dialogue.

In this article, I will provide some local analysis into the content, and tricks of the trade used in this State of the Union address, as well as note his republican response. I am going to try and avoid vague comments on the theme because there are plenty of other places for that sort of stuff. I am going to look specifically at what he promised and how he promised to do it.


As you might have gathered from the news, the President’s main ideas revolved around long-term planning for a solid economic future. In short, “Winning the Future”. So what did he promise to make that happen?


“We can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” A tall order. President Bush promised hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in almost every one of his state of the union addresses but never followed through with the funding and initiative. President Obama promised to fund this measure by cutting the tax incentives we currently give to oil companies.


In a similar vein, “by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas.” President Obama has been a fan of clean coal, to the disappointment of much of his liberal base, for many years. He supported Clean Coal initiatives as a state senator in Illinois. On the other hand, the stimulus package passed in 2009 was the largest financial investment in wind and solar energy . . . ever. We will see how he shepards this initiative through, but I’m excited to see a sharp focus on renewable energy, especially one that is not accompanied by “Drill, Baby, Drill!”


The President spent a solid third of his speech on education. He went over his Education program, the “Race to the Top”. Conceived as a response to “No Child Left Behind” which cut off failing schools when they did not make the test, “Race to the Top” offers money to schools that are showing improvement, encouraging teachers to try new methods of engaging their students. It has been much less controversial and by many measures, more successful than previous methods. He made a personal plea to the young people of America, urging them to be come teachers, specifically, “we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.”

The President reiterated his support for repairing our roads, bridges and building high-speed rail. Right now, the proposed high-speed rail line would run from Vancouver, BC down to Portland, OR and continuing south to northern California. This is a long-term project is not expected to be completed for another ten to twenty years, but would greatly reduce the sea of I-5 commuters.


The last leg of his speech dealt with the debt. He proposed a freeze on domestic spending, which was surprising to those of us who heard his first half of the speech talking about investing in infrastructure. He proposed a restructuring of all levels of government to eliminate redundancies and most importantly removing government regulation that does not provide for the common good (protecting our food, safety, etc).


He concluded his speech noting some of his accomplishments in the past year. The continued drawdown in Iraq, as well as supporting Democracy using diplomacy in nations around the world, and called on Congress to set aside scoring points and just get solutions passed.


All in all the speech was well received by congress, the press and the American public. Together we will see if and how the president follows through on his promises.


The Republican response was delivered by Paul Ryan, Republican congressman from Wisconsin, most famous for his plan, as chairman of the budget committee, to severely curb Social Security benefits and turn Medicare into a voucher program.  His response painted a grim picture of our country, “We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead . . . Job creation is being stifled by all of its taxes, penalties, mandates and fees.”


He laid out some short statements on the Republican’s vision and role of government and promised, “Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you – to show you how we intend to do things differently … how we will cut spending to get the debt down… help create jobs and prosperity … and reform government programs.” He railed against the Obama administration saying that they will “transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”


The most striking difference between the two speeches was the lack of concrete promises in the Republican response. Both contained a great deal of rhetoric, talking about the role of government and the economy, but the President laid out a number of specific programs he wanted to enact or do away with, while the republican response said “Wait and see our budget.”



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