By Matthew Rothschild on February 13, 2013

President Obama's State of the Union Address provided some solace to progressives on some issues, but left a lot to be desired on others.

He was right to point out that we can't keep "drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next" -- a good, clean shot at Republican obstructionism on the fiscal cliff and sequestration.

But for the longest time in the first part of his speech, he focused on deficit reduction, which is an exaggerated problem. He said that "economists" say we need $2 trillion more in deficit reduction "to stabilize our finances." Which economists was he talking about? Not Nobel Prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who have urged him not to focus so much on deficit reduction but rather on job creation.

And in his discussion of deficit reduction, Obama hinted that most people are going to suffer. "We can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful," he said. That doesn't sound like he's making a good bargain to me. Instead, it sounds like he's going to ask "senior citizens and working families" to shoulder a big part of the deficit burden, which they can't afford to do.

His endorsement of universal pre-kindergarten was a positive step. But he acted like that would even the playing field by itself, saying, "Let's ... make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind." Actually, children in poverty are already behind, so how about tackling poverty in America? But Obama didn't talk about eliminating poverty in the American context, only in the global context.

And as for high schools, he boasted about Race to the Top, which has been a nightmare, and said he now wanted to "redesign America's high schools" so they can give students "the skills today's employers are looking for." What about giving students the skills to be engaged learners or thoughtful citizens?

On the positive side, he did come out for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But why $9 an hour instead of the $10 an hour that Ralph Nader has been calling for?

He did give some welcome shout outs to LGBTS and women and the cause of equality for all.

He did come out strongly for a fairer tax code, for gun control, and for protecting voting rights.

And he spoke forcefully for action on global warming, though he favored a "market-based solution."

He proposed to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, which was welcome.

And he said he wanted to fix the housing market by allowing "every responsible homeowner in America" to refinance at today's rates. The problem is, he seems to be calling anyone who ever missed a payment an irresponsible homeowner, when they may have been unable to pay because they got sick or got laid off. Is he not going to help them at all?

He talked about comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, as he did in his Inaugural address. Fortunately, he added the need to "cut waiting periods," which can be 20 years or longer right now. Some people will die on that path to citizenship.

On foreign and military policy, he was the most disappointing. He threatened Iran again, saying, "Now is the time for a diplomatic solution," and warning: "We will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon."

He was blatantly one-sided on the Israel-Palestinian issue, saying, "We will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace." He didn't even bother to mention the Palestinians at all.

And appallingly, he defended his drone warfare and assassination policy. "Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans," he said. And in the very next sentence, he had the chutzpah to add: "As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight."

He said his Administration "has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations." But is it "legal" just because he and his Justice Department say it is?

He also said, in a bald-faced lie, that "throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts." Try running that past Sen. Ron Wyden, who for months has been trying to get his questions answered on the Administration's assassination doctrine.

He also sang from the hymnal of American exceptionalism. "America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change," he said. "In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights." Tell that to the people of Bahrain.

This was neither Obama's most eloquent defense of an affirmative role for government, nor was it close to his most honest discussion of U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, it was lukewarm liberalism at home coupled with Bush-league justifications for lawlessness and hypocrisy abroad.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Republicans Take Abusers' Side on VAWA."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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