By Ruth Conniff on February 13, 2013

The best part of the State of the Union was when President Obama took it to the Republicans.

The most ringing line came at the end, when Obama acknowledged the victims of gun violence and their family members in the audience and said, repeatedly, "they deserve a vote," on gun control, until the whole chamber rose to its feet and applauded.

Gun control, closing tax loopholes for the rich, emphasizing job growth instead of deficit reduction through austerity, and supporting immigration reform were among the no-brainers for a majority of Americans the President hit on in his speech.

Even protecting voting rights is controversial with Republicans in Congress. But they know they are out of step (in fact, that's why curtailing voting rights is their goal).

It was fun to watch Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and John Boehner squirm when Obama talked about increasing the minimum wage, enforcing pay equity, and renewing the Violence Against Women Act.

The long section on climate change was also encouraging.

The devil is in the details, though. The President mentioned the last, failed effort to pass comprehensive climate change legislation--a process that was hopelessly undermined when his Administration rolled over for the fossil fuel industry, as detailed in a classic account by the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.

The whole battle over so-called sequestration is opaque. The Republicans have lately tried to tie Obama to the drastic across-the-board cuts he denounced in his speech, repeatedly calling it "the Obama sequestration."

That effort seems doomed, since most Americans don't know what the word sequestration means.

The President hit the core issues--growth versus austerity, rebuilding our infrastructure, making higher education attainable--and won.

Obama's nod to Reagan's now mainstream denunciation of "big government"--which is no longer considered such a bad idea by young college students confronting a life of debt peonage--is ominous.

So is his pledge to ask for more sacrifice, and more bipartisan compromise.

After the speech, the Republicans pushed forward their most palatable public face--Marco Rubio--to give their party's response.

Rubio is their best shot at appealing to the Latino voters they so resoundingly alienated in the last election.

Blaming Obamacare and "big government" for the recession, Rubio stuck to the usual talking points.

He expressed Republican rage at the party's marginalization.

"He accuses us of leaving the poor and the elderly to fend for themselves," Rubio said of Obama.

The President says "that we only care about rich people . . . Mr. President I still live in the same working class neighborhood where I grew up," Rubio said.

"I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plan because I want to protect my neighbors."

It was the best response the Republicans could make. But it lacked new ideas or substance.

Rubio agreeing with the President on low corporate tax rates and some sort of immigration reform did not bode well.

The Republicans are still wandering in the wilderness. Let's hope Obama leaves them there.

 

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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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