I listened to the President’s State of the Union address last evening. To my ears it was unremarkable. It was a “glass is half full” description of the country offering motivation to move forward, but I doubt that the speech will in and of itself change anything. It certainly was in stark contrast to the right-wing view that the country is mostly destroyed by Obama’s policies and will be completely destroyed before he leaves office. Obama urged Congress to extend unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and pass immigration reform—and to stop voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act after 40 unsuccessful tries, but significantly, there was not a single allusion or joke aimed at birthers.
What I found remarkable, and what prompted me to write this article, is that there was not one Republican response to the speech, but two, and three if you count the one by Rand Paul. I’m not buying Paul’s description of the three responses as “complimentary.” What they signal to me is that not only are Republicans not willing to work with Democrats, they are not willing to work with each other. It suggests that the old saying “cooler heads will prevail” is no longer valid. The book Double Down: Game Change 2012 that I’m reading now talks about the deep division in the Republican Party over the Romney candidacy, and Romney’s loss to Obama has to strengthen the position of the more extreme elements on the right.
My high school Civics teacher described politics as a pendulum that swung back and forth between a liberal and conservative consensus. The farther political events move from the center the greater the accumulated reaction resisting it, just as the acceleration towards the center is greater as the bob moves to its extreme positions. What is impossible for someone like me to see is how far the bob will swing in the current cycle before it heads back. An NBC poll says that the 28% of the country thinks we are on the right track, and 63% on the wrong track. That would suggest acceleration, but it doesn’t say what direction the acceleration is in.
I think the next few years will be interesting.