Obama and the State of the Status Quo
As some might expect, President Obama’s state of the union address was just more of the same. As is said often: “Same shit, different day.” Why do I say this?
Most importantly, I say this because Obama did nothing to change the terms of our political debate, leaving us in the same political eddy we have been left in for the past 8 years and beyond. As a result we go round and round, getting nowhere, while the current ruling class – which encompasses both Republicans and Democrats – sounds out the all-too-familiar mantra, “Washington is broken,” as if Washington was a machine and not a collection of human beings with free will. If Washington is “broken,” then it is so because our ruling class prefers it that way. And they do because it is in this way that they can preserve their power, maintain their grip on the government, while doing little or nothing to “fix” D.C.
Here is an assessment of the state of the union from a Republican strategist, taken from a NY Times article analyzing the president’s speech:
“It’s increasingly clear the anxiety voters feel is not just economic,” said Sara Fagen, a Republican strategist. “They are concerned with what they perceive as a weakened America on the world stage. They believe that even if America was leading, the rest of the world would not follow us. Obama’s actions on Iran, Syria and Russia have done nothing to assuage that fear.”
Now, the interesting thing about this assessment is that it is made in the same terms that Obama used in his speech, the only difference being that Obama claimed that some people were too fearful, that the U.S. was still strong and still the world’s leading nation. But, says the Republican strategist, no, the U.S. is not strong enough and, hence, is not really leading the rest of the world. So, there you have it, two arguments that are exactly alike, viz., it is strength and leadership that defines the state of our union. More strength, a more healthy union. More leadership, a more healthy union.
Ah, but this is not what the American people are anxious about. As the Times article points out, “two out of three Americans still feel the country is on the wrong path.” Note should be taken: The U.S. is on the wrong path. That is, increasing our power in order to exercise world leadership is the wrong path. The American people are anxious about the status quo, that is, the path the country is presently on. Why? Well, for example, “because the gains of the last few years have not been distributed evenly. Income disparities have grown worse. The poverty rate is 14.8 percent, higher than when Mr. Obama took office.” The American people are also anxious about wars that have dragged on and on and on, with few signs of progress, while American troopers die or are maimed and billions and billions of dollars are spent in these endless wars.
This is why people like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both men not known as mainstream characters, are as popular as they are. This is why our political drama has the intensity it has, why many events, which could seem to be of minor importance, seem to take on an importance far beyond their actual significance.
But Obama and the Republicans both fail to address these concerns, trying to preserve the status quo, that is, a politics that uses divisiveness to ensure that the government stays on the path that the U.S. is currently on, because to do otherwise, would threaten their power and the regime they control. If this seems to you like a losing game in the long run, it seems so to me also. A question is: What will happen when this game is lost? It is an interesting situation.