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(en) US, Rochester NY RedNblack anarchists: The Task of Us All: An Anarchist Review of the 2013 State of the Union Address by crescenzo

Date Mon, 04 Mar 2013 18:18:35 +0200


Pre-Game: ---- The Spectacle begins with the absurd and offensive ritual of the President taking his sweet time proceeding up the aisle to give the speech. This ritual serves the function of showing President-as-rock-star while making Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner watch and wait. This may get a few partisan jollies for those so closely enmeshed in the state’s internal drama, but nonetheless serves primarily to further enshrine the President (and by extension the state and its trappings generally) in grandiose spectacle. We see his ‘encounters’ with now-Secretary of State John Kerry (also known as the guy who managed to lose an election to George W. Bush) and Justice Sotomayor who both serve as important personalities for the liberal base. We then see a lengthy and rather more formal set of encounters with “the brass” by which I mean uniformed military dignitaries.

When the President finally reaches his destination, we are informed by an NBC commentator that he’ll give two copies of his speech to VP Biden and Speaker Boehner. When the President turns to do this he apparently gives each manilla envelope to the wrong guy and Biden and Boehner then go through the process of switching envelopes, a bit with the comic feel of Sesame Street or an early SNL sketch.

Bipartisan Beginnings and Progress:

The President’s speech begins with a civics lesson to Congress on “bipartisanism.” He harkens back to Kennedy’s having said that the two parties are not “rivals for power, but partners.” Then he announces point of progress #1: troops coming home. This moment is made all the more vile for the President’s use of “after a decade of grinding war” as a preface. Now of course, the war is smoothly sailing over the heads of those we slaughter, dropping death from automated machines instead of risking a pilot or soldier. The costs of maintaining Imperialism continue to approach those of a very expensive video game. Good news for American military families perhaps, but decidedly terrible news for civilians and resistance fighters all over the world.

Point of progress #2 follows promptly, lest we linger too long on our subjugation of the globe: economic recovery. Bowing to the political vocabulary around job creation, Obama is careful to say that “American businesses” have created over 6 million jobs. In a nod to the (de)industrial Midwest, he cites an uptick in domestic consumption of American cars. He cites downward foreign oil consumption, previewing the (disastrous) energy policy section later. Then he comes to the part most interesting to the TV audience: “millions of Americans whose hard work… has not yet been rewarded.” “Too many people still can’t find full time employment,” the President tells us, and “corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade wages and incomes have barely budged.” This sort of rhetoric no doubt feels validating and overdue to many working class Americans.

Economic Policy and Class Politics:

As to his solution, the President sets our sights on “the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.” Emphasis his. Rooting itself in the not-so-long-forgotten Keynesian economics that made the New Deal, the President deftly assuages any fears that “middle class” Americans might have that they might not still be a safe and superior cut above the poor. This false consciousness and conditioned fear conceals the fact that “middle class” Americans belong to a broad (international) working class with common political interests. It is crucial to the Democratic Party and State politics to keep this false middle-class consciousness alive, because as soon as those blinders fall away, there is a united proletarian agenda waiting to emerge that could threaten to crush them both. And of course, the first and worst effect of this language is the perpetual (and convenient) invisibility of the poor in national politics.

Referring to the “basic bargain that built America,” and slipping “who you love” into the list of things that shouldn’t matter in a nod to LGBT advocates, the President appeals to such basic values as “if you work hard… you can get ahead” and “government works on behalf of the many, not just the few.” What begins to emerge from the President’s speech here is a pattern of very common sense-sounding appeals to values that the right is fond of calling “class war” rhetoric. The President shows in this speech how easily a case can be made to overwhelming swaths of the electorate for an aggressive liberal agenda, and leveraging the GOP opposition with the threat of beginning to agitate those struggling masses down below. In other words, Republicans should rather deal with Obama than with even the most manufactured inklings of an awakened popular movement in this country. Of course such a movement genuinely building power would be no more in Democrats’ interests than in Republicans’, but the threat of manipulating the people into an electoral mobilization in the future (specifically the 2014 midterm elections) might well disconcert those wanting to maintain a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. At least enough to inspire a little reconciliation across the capitalist aisle.

Bipartisanism II:

“Put the nation’s interests before party” comes another exultation towards bipartisanship. Then follows a fairly straightforward recap of the whole “fiscal cliff” charade. In one of his near-constant concessions to Fox ideological spin, the President agrees that “the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of healthcare for an aging population.” This simply is not the truth. The cost of the US’s global military apparatus and its incursions into other lands and its slaughter of other peoples dwarfs by a mile the cost of any other federal expense. This of course, is just not on the table.

Retirement Entitlements:

In the next section on Social Security, Medicare, and retirement, we see Democrats allowing for “modest reforms” by which we should understand them to mean “modest” concessions in the standard of living of retirees. And in the very next sentence he assuages the AARP and other liberals while waving the same stick at the right that no reform can “violate the guarantee of a secure retirement” and no legislative deal should come without the fair balance of asking some help from the “wealthiest and most powerful” in exchange for Democrats agreeing to the incremental impoverishment of elderly proletarians.

Taxes and the Business of the State:

The President goes on to discuss the tax code, proposing to close loopholes and give incentives for domestic manufacturing – a pair of policy proposals that seem to get talked about as an “of course” measure every few seconds but never gets done for reasons as simple as that the interests of foreign manufacturing and high finance are too influential in federal politics to allow such things to be done. Obama then harshly and rather comically slaps the GOP around for the recurrence of “manufactured” crises, referring to any number of hilarious Republican antics since the 2008 election.

Something interesting happens here, though: Obama is telling Congress to compromise, put nation before party etc, and then he says to “do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.” While the brinksmanship is a fairly clear allusion to the Debt Ceiling and/or the Fiscal Cliff, what is most interesting is that he here refers to the federal government’s consumers as though government were itself a business. Who he’s talking about here is the American public generally, and Americans who vote in particular. These are the government’s consumers and big businesses and high financial institutions are the government’s investors. And anyone who knows anything about business (particularly one trying to recover from hard times) knows that the job is to court investors by doing whatever they might want without pissing off too many customers. That’s their game.

Moving on to jobs, Obama employs what may be the oldest trick in the book – he advertises. In talking about favorable economic progress, he cites Caterpillar (the company bulldozing Palestine), Ford, and Apple by name. And Apple’s new CEO gets the camera for more than a few moments to sit there and look beneficent. The President is literally giving ad time to corporations in the State of the Union.

All political content momentarily aside, President Obama mentions investing in 3D Printing technology. So, obviously we live in the goddamn future. I’m just sayin’.

Black Enough Already I:

Another interesting moment: while talking about economic stimulus policy, the President refers to middle class job growth as “the north star that guides our efforts.” In what I can only imagine is a rhetorical tickle of black voters and educated liberals, Obama seems to signal here (and at one or two other points as well) that he may be done hiding from his blackness, politically. In either case, an interesting choice of metaphor for a president whose presidency has so far been defined by thinly veiled white supremacist hysteria.

Energy, Ecology, and the Perversion of the Commons:

Finally, we come to Energy Policy. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.” As if this is a good thing (though it did get an audible “yeah!” from somebody in the crowd). “We produce more natural gas than ever before.” Yes, and our water is flammable as result. “But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change” begins what is perhaps the only redeemable portion of the speech. Not on how to fix climate change (“bipartisan market-based solution”), but on emphasizing it’s scientific irrefutability and awesome importance to not-so-distant posterity. This same rationale is imminently at our disposal as revolutionaries to argue for direct action against the ecological devastation of hydro-fracking, tar sands, the Keystone XL pipeline, and other threats to our ecosystem. The President outright states his intention to use maximum executive power in the absence of congressional action. Constitutional concerns aside, it is distinctly unclear what this would actually mean given his heaping praise on the “natural gas boom” (a sadly fortuitous choice of words) and his promise to include domestic oil extraction as part of an “all of the above plan.”

Obama dreamily tells us that much of natural gas and oil extraction is currently taking place on publicly-owned property (though it’s all being extracted by privately permitted corporations). It is apparently not enough to plunder and despoil our planet, but the private sector must plunder from those chunks of the planet supposedly owned by a people’s common government. And the President tells us this to our faces, selling it as a good thing that shows we’re all in this together.

Infrastructure and Housing, Just How Business Likes It:
We then move to infrastructure, a fairly generic topic. Good infrastructure attracts business, we’re told. The rebuilding will create construction and technology jobs, we’re told. This can be partially paid for by a “partnership” with private capital, we’re told.
Moving on to housing, we hear a boast of rising housing prices. Clearly this is a perspective based on the interests of the housing industry (big banks, essentially) not on the interests of struggling working people. Obama then proposes a law to allow large-scale refinancing of mortgage rates. An interesting, if stop-gap idea.

Education and Capitalist Ideology:

The next policy point is an appeal for universal Pre-K. The President cites the myriad benefits that result from stable Pre-K and early childhood education. There is, though, another wording choice that reveals things that should embarrass the powerful but apparently don’t. “Let’s… make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.” The race of life. This is perhaps a less immediately consequential point, but this blithe remark is a vomit-worthy capitulation to the most foundational ideological underpinnings of capitalism. That life is a race, that life is about (even for toddlers) your future job, your future “success,” the dollar value assigned to your future and your ability to compete. The idea that the early development of children should be commonly provided for is a thoroughly progressive and beautifully communistic idea. But that the reason to do this is to head-start training for the next generation’s toil for the profit of the masters of capital is one of the most offensive and insidious notions I can think of. It’s an affront to the very idea of childhood and every single parent, teacher, and student should be outraged by it.

Now on to the rest of education policy. The major proposal was to increase the caliber of high school curricula to include more advanced vocational and technical training, citing European systems. What isn’t addressed is how to do this. In the absence of a stated way, we can only assume that the method would be the same dangling competition-based initiatives like Race to the Top/No Child Left Behind. The more interesting idea that came later was the proposal that federal aid to colleges be tied to cost/accessibility and to create a federally standardized index for the public to evaluate colleges cost/benefit ratio.

Who We Are vs. What Capital Needs:

Next, immigration. “Comprehensive immigration reform” sounds good, doesn’t it? Once again, the President seems to favor an “all of the above” approach. Apparently amnesty isn’t “above” but that’s just how it goes. After outlining reforms for dealing with so-called illegal immigration, he moved to legal immigration protocol, proclaiming that we should “attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will… grow our economy.” This is a far cry from “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” (the immigration policy of a time when capital needed those masses of cheap labor to build industry) and aptly pivots the subject away from the fact that undocumented workers tend to be those poor, huddled masses to which the Statue of Liberty so eloquently refers. If we talked about that too much or for too long, someone might eventually point out the that Administration’s policy of mass deportation of the most downtrodden and their families sounds a bit… unAmerican?

The Liberal Saviors of Women:

Now what better way to introduce the next section (women) with a listing of the three things we expect women to be in America: “our wives, our mothers, our daughters.” The recurrent “our” is as telling as the unholy trinity of women’s roles listed. The President lauded the Senate’s passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Well, it’s about damn time I suppose. The President and the cameras could not have been more personally congratulatory of Vice President Joe Biden (an author of the bill) while of course ignoring the generations of feminist movements that struggled for decades to get domestic violence onto the political table at all. The President also urged passage of a law that, judging by the name, would legislate equal pay for equal work.

The Long-Awaited Minimum Wage:

“Today a full-time worker making the [federal] minimum wage earns $14,500 a year…. A family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong…. In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty – and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 and hour…. [and] Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living.” Perhaps the most significant specific policy item in this address, such legislation would be a game change for the better for so much of the struggling working class in the US.

Black Enough Already II:

Another interesting moment occurs while the President is discussing families and marriage for the poor (a strange subject discussed strangely). The President regurgitates to the nation the platitude that “what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child, it’s having the courage to raise one.” An easy applause-getter on both left and right (by which for the purposes of this article only, I mean Democrats and Republicans) for its implicit emphasis on personal responsibility, this is also a fairly-well used rhetorical device within poor and oppressed communities. We should still acknowledge though, that this device in the hands of the leader of the Democratic Party still places national blame on the Young Black Man for the problem. And more to the point, it is the Prison Industry in this country (fueled and backed by the President’s education and drug policies) that kidnaps millions of young black and brown men from their homes and communities to lock them in cages and labor camps, depriving them of even the option to “raise one” as the President so virtuously suggests.

Empire, and the Political Costs of Global War:

Afghanistan. 33,000 troops have been brought home, we’re told. This year another 34,000 will return, we’re told. “By the end of next year, our War in Afghanistan will be over,” we’re told. The brass did not stand for this announcement. Outlining his military approach the President tells us, “We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad or occupy other nations. Instead we’ll need to help [emphasis mine] countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists as we have in Mali. And where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.” So what that means is that instead of maintaining global hegemony through large-scale, loud means that attract all kind of attention and criticism from the people of the world, we’re going to do it nicely and quietly through “voluntary relations” with “ally” governments (many of which we’ve installed recently and/or propped up over many decades, and many of which are egregiously anti-democratic). We’ll still be the gun behind global trade and capital. We’ll still kill you if you try to fight back or free your people from our yoke. But we’ll have your government’s consent, whether your government has its people’s consent or not. It’s still Empire, it’s just Friendly Empire. And it’s easier domestic politics too, now that we can reign death from above with a video game controller in Fort Drum instead of having to put boots in harms way.



The President goes on to state his “support” for the Syrian opposition and to say that the US will “stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security.” He does not say the word “Palestine” aloud.

He includes equal benefits for LGBT couples in the section on military and veterans benefits. He pridefully announces that women are “ready for combat” as though it is a good thing.

Internet, Security, and Control:

Next comes the warning of “cyber-attacks.” And we are told of a new executive order to increase cyber security. How exactly? It’s unclear. He urges congress to act further to “secure our networks.” One can only imagine the relief so many of the powerful might feel without the needling threat of Anonymous or another WikiLeaks. And as cyber-literacy increases by generation, how long until the poor simply start hacking the accounts of the rich and taking their digitally-imagined money. The state cannot allow that to happen. The free nature of the internet poses a threat to stability, though attempts to control the internet may well backfire as they did throughout the Arab Spring, posing the much more fundamental threat: people.

Getting (Y)ours Abroad:

Foreign trade is up to bat next. Obama touches on the Trans-Pacific Partnership to “level the playing field” for American exports in Asian markets. Many of those markets enjoy lingering protectionism and national regulations from a time when the regions governments justified their rule with the idea of “communism.” Such lingering barriers must of course be swept away for the new future of global capital. The President also announces his pursuit of a Trans-Atlantic Partnership to improve exports to the European Union from the US. For those who may not know, there are currently a number of Latin American nations whose domestic economies are dependent on import/export trade deals with Europe (the idea being for European nations to help out their former colonies by importing from them exclusively). Such trade deals crowd out American exports in certain European markets, but could have devastating effects of the economies of Latin America if removed. The poaching of Latin American export markets in Europe is what the President proposes, as though the US hasn’t done quite enough to screw Latin America. Also, one can only imagine the opportunities such an awful shock would create for American investors…

Finally Fighting the Plague:

Another unexpected thing happens about a minute later: the President is talking about global poverty and humanitarian aid (all well and good) and includes in his list of goals “realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.” Many activists, queer communities, and families may be reminded of those who might still be alive today if such a goal had been publicly set by President Reagan at the time of the emergence of the epidemic rather than ignored by the government for so long, silently sentencing thousands to hard and lonely deaths.

Suffrage, a Dream Deformed:

Again unexpectedly, the President talks at some length about voting rights. While avoiding accusations of intentional electoral tampering with great skill, he speaks of the need to “improve the voting experience.” The legislated disenfranchisement of imprisoned Americans is not mentioned. This issue touches on the legacy of the black liberation struggle in this country, though erasing the role the issue of suffrage historically played as the first not last demand of a people. In the words of Kwame Ture (then-Stokely Carmichael and then-Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee): “We were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy.”

Gun Control and the House of Representatives:

In the anticipated opus of the evening, President Obama finally broaches the issue of gun control with the exhortation to “protect our most precious resource: our children.” He quite skillfully addresses Newtown without making it feel like political opportunism. He frames it with an artful combination of ‘common sense’ and ‘law and order’ language. What then follows is a forceful call for an up-or-down vote on gun control reform in the House. The political obstacle is that with a Republican majority, many such bills would die quietly in committee without a floor vote. So the President told a handful of deeply moving stories of victims of gun violence and then acclaimed again and again that “they deserve a vote!”

Always Leave ‘Em Wanting More:

Finally approaching the conclusion of the address, the tone shifts down a bit (adding an air of dignified thoughtfulness) to tell stories of chosen examples of patriotism in the audience (including a 102 year old black woman from Miami). This pious display segues gracefully into another appeal to bipartisanism before the obligatory “God bless America.”
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