The Obama Presidency
What to Expect from the State of the Union
Tonight President Barack Obama will be giving his State of the Union to both Houses of Congress and assembled dignitaries.
The State of the Union is mandated by the Constitution. It is the means through which the President reports to Congress by providing information on the previous year’s developments and his plans for the coming year; the direction the president offers for the problems faced by the country. As the only national office, the president also bears responsibility for the union, which means for preserving and maintaining the continuity of power for the U.S. rulers and their empire. Both foreign and domestic issues enter into the speech though commonly domestic issues — in this case the economy and jobs — carry greater weight.
Tonight's State of the Union is being given midway through Obama's four-year term, and just following mid-term elections. The Democrats lost their majority in the House, with Republicans winning 239 out of 435 seats, while just barely retaining a majority in the Senate (51 Democrats and 2 independents who commonly vote Democratic, out of 100 seats). The mid-terms were considered a shellacking for Obama and there was much speculation as to whether he could retain the presidency for a second term. Since the Tucson shooting, however, the Tea Party and Republicans are the one’s losing approval, while the media are reporting that Obama’s popularity has risen. Approval of Congress remains at all-time lows.
What then can we expect from the State of the Union?
When Obama came to office he emphasized, “Many, many Americans are both anxious and uncertain of what the future will hold.” He referred to the "devastating loss of trust and confidence in our economy, our financial markets, and our government.” He promised to restore the promise of the American Dream, which lay in tatters as a result of wholesale theft, corruption and gambling by the financial sector that shamed and shook the confidence of the entire country in an unprecedented way.
Now, two years into the Obama presidency, have trust and confidence been restored or further eroded? If restored, on what basis? If eroded, what argument will Obama present, if any, to explain what he is doing about it?
His presidency has been used to pay the rich on a massive scale and use the plight of the unemployed and homeless to cover-up plans to do more of the same. Obama's appeals to Americans to stand together to help U.S. monopolies out-compete all other rivals on the global markets will not end the crisis in favor of the American people. His deals with global monopolies such as GE to “put the economy in overdrive” by doubling exports and by “building stuff” — to make certain “America is leading the global competition that will determine our success in the 21st century” — will increase the manipulation of prices globally and increase trade wars, further shift the burden of the crisis onto the working people at home and abroad and further increase the discontent of the people. The content of Obama's proposal is already evident with a wage freeze announced for federal workers, cuts to Medicare and Social Security also likely, destruction of education and its privatization and continuing spiraling war budgets.
In terms of foreign policy Obama's promises two years ago to end the Iraq war, close Guantánamo and restore rule of law were intended to end the humiliation of America as a result of the Bush years in which the American democracy became synonymous with aggressions and war, targeted assassinations, lying, illegal renditions to torture, the use of torture, black ops and depravations and illegalities of all sorts. Far from restoring the image of the U.S. abroad, the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and U.S. troops are expected to remain for decades. Drone attacks massacring civilians in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, where there is no declaration of war or even authorization for use of force, have greatly increased. The U.S. state, with its aggression and threats of more war against Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is repeatedly gambling with the potential for regional and world war and the use of nuclear weapons.
Guantánamo remains open. Indefinite detention, without charges or trial and simply on the president’s say-so, has been further enforced. Secret prisons and the use of torture continue and the very conception of civil liberties has been discarded in favor of spurious arguments about the right of the President and security forces to do whatever they deem necessary to defend American interests at home and abroad. Indeed, even when the Supreme Court has ruled detainees are to be released, Obama has determined they are to be kept in detention.
Detention camps are also being built in the U.S. While at present they are for undocumented immigrants, given the plan to require all workers to have federally issued biometric identification cards, and the likelihood that many will be denied them, one can see the possibility for such camps becoming mass labor camps. Meanwhile the attacks on the American people are unprecedented with deportations at record levels, workers criminalized for defending their rights and 1200 National Guards adding to the militarization of the Mexican border. Drones are now deployed along the borders with both Mexico and Canada, at demonstrations and by local police stations. They are scheduled for use by police agencies across the country within the next two years.
Overall, all the evidence confirms that the Obama presidency is institutionalizing the use of violence as the means to achieve regime change abroad and to destroy the creation of public opinion at home. This is covered up with talk about overcoming “partisan rancor,” “vitriol,” and “gridlock” in Congress. The cover up of what the U.S. is really up to is as Obama presented in Tucson after the Arizona shooting: “We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations.”
The talk of “gridlock,” “vitriol,” and “civil discourse” serve to hide the reality of intensifying conflicts within the ruling circles as they contend for power. Will the trade wars that will undoubtedly accompany Obama’s plan to double exports further intensify this scenario? Can a coherent argument be made as to why an America at war, with a war economy serving the rich, is the America the people want and should work together to achieve? Will the consolidation of executive rule solve the problem of the failure of American institutions to sort out the differences within the ranks of the ruling elite and cover up the increasing violence of the dictatorship against the American people?
The more history demands the empowerment of the people to govern themselves and make the decisions which affect their lives, the more we can expect President Obama to engage in attempts to escape this call of history and maneuver to get away with it. This is what we can expect from this year's State of the Union.