Good Speeches, But Now What?

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - February 03, 2010

The nation listened to Barack Obama give his State of the Union last Wednesday, the first of at least four that he will deliver. And Hawaii listened as well to Linda Lingle give her eighth and final State of the State speech last Monday. Both the president and the governor did themselves proud.

Obama opened glum. He reminded his audience of what met him when he took office: involvement in two wars, a banking crisis and the worst economic recession in 30 years. “We acted,” he said, “and the worst of the storm has passed, but the devastation remains” - including a 10 percent unemployment rate.

Obama told the joint session what every member of the Congress and Senate present already knew: that the folks were frustrated and angry at Washington’s partisanship and pettiness. “We can’t afford it,” he said. “Not now. We have to overcome the numbing weight of our partisanship.”


The president piled one good line after another. On the need to end legislative gridlock and invest in math, science and the nation’s infrastructure: “We’re too gridlocked. How long should we wait to do these things? China’s not waiting. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. I do not accept second place for the United States of America.” In urging investments in schools and colleges: “In the 21st century, the best poverty program around is a world-class education.” In indicating that he will continue to push for healthcare reform to stop insurance companies from refusing coverage to people with preexisting conditions: “I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should anyone in this chamber.”

After discussing budget freezes to deal with the deficit, Obama warned against a “deficit of trust” that required “action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

He scolded the members of the Supreme Court present in the House chamber for having “reversed a century of law” by allowing corporations to contribute as much as they please to political campaigns. Politicians, Obama argued, “shouldn’t be bankrolled by the wealthiest among us.” Obama decried a political climate in which “every day is an election day,” one in which it is always “you lose, I win. Such politics only sow further distrust.“And he asserted that “I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.”

Obama reminded his fellow Democrats that they were sent to Washington to solve problems, not to “run for the hills” at the first sign of voter displeasure. And he scolded Republicans, telling them that “just saying ‘no’may be good politics, but it’s not leadership.”

Obama has offered good lines before - lots of them. But rhetoric doesn’t make a presidency. His speech won him 36 hours of good reviews from the American people. But in 48 hours, it would be “every day’s an election day” in Washington again. The Republicans’41 United States senators would see to that.

Earlier last week in Honolulu, Gov. Lingle offered neither soaring rhetoric nor punchy lines. But she did offer thanks to a lot of people who had stood with her during the past seven years. More important, she loaded her speech with specific proposals to deal with the economic downturn. Among them: creation of a Fiscal Stabilization Fund that would put “5 percent of the general fund’s end-of-year balance” aside; “a ban on the construction of new power plants that burn fossil fuels”; and a general excise tax exemption to two megawatt or more renewal energy projects - among others.

Lingle proposed a constitutional amendment that would make the Department of Education a cabinet department with a superintendent hired by the next governor.

It was a good speech, but like Obama’s two days later, just a speech.

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