Friday, January 31, 2014

A state of mind

     This week, President Barack Obama, like all of his predecessors, fulfilled his constitutional duty with his annual report on the state of the union. Unless the Congress fulfills its duties in response, the Union will remain in a sorry state indeed.

     Obama tried to appear positive, suggesting to the 30 million who watched the speech that no matter how good or bad things have been, the future is looking brighter. The speech was judged as largely conciliatory by 83 percent of those polled after the speech. As should be expected, the political opposition did not.

     There is no surprise that the Democratic president and the Republican members of Congress see the state of the union quite differently. What is surprising is the hardened ideological silos being defended by individuals within the Republican ranks. Although the Republican leadership was OK with the Republican response presented by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, it somehow did not pass the Tea Party test. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky took to the air to get in their 2 cents as well. 

     The clearest picture of the state of the union is that too many elected to represent their constituents’ interests are so busy defining their political positions, they find it impossible to work not just with Democrats but with their own leaders as well. There is something weird going on when John McCain, a war hero, senior senator and their party’s presidential candidate, was proposed for censure by members of the Arizona Republican Party because he is not conservative enough.

     During past State of the Union addresses by this president, opponents have shouted out the accusation, “You lie,” and some members of the Supreme Court do not attend at all. This year, the rancor rose to levels where one congressman tweeted during the speech the accusation that President Obama was preparing a virtual coup d’etat while another walked out. 

     In the majority in the House of Representatives since 2010, the Republicans have the power to stop anything. So far, that is the tactic they have followed. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised before Obama even took office in 2009, his party has refused to act on anything offered by the president in order to deny him any points for his pledge to be bipartisan.

     The spectacle of the disarray within the Republican Party that has been exposed by the State of the Union should not make any of us feel good. Our representative democracy depends on our politicians acting in good faith. At risk is not just the future of a political party but of the country itself.

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