Ah, State of the Union. The one night a year where Americans of every color, creed, and religious affiliation can join together and watch Nancy Pelosi touch her face.
Highlights include Tim Geithner blinking and that time when Obama censured the Supreme Court and it kind of looked like he was scolding a bunch of Hogwarts professors.
It was a nice speech, with alliterations that warmed the heart and challenged the mind ("Strife and strength?" That's a thinker.) There were many moments when the audience erupted into applause and rose to its feet. But that's what you do when you hear a sports metaphor and you're wasted (had anyone not been drinking?).
As Americans, we learned about ourselves. We are "struggling but encouraged," "generous in spirit," and -- my personal favorite -- "strained but hopeful." Could someone explain that last one? I'm picturing a person over a toilet with a big smile on their face.
I applaud Obama for recognizing our "stubborn resilience in the face of adversity." I'd forgotten about that. Before you write to Obama about your lack of health care, be sure to check the back of your closet for stubborn resilience. Remember -- it's in the face of adversity, and it's always in the last place you look.
Speaking of looking, we have our work cut out for us. We have to find those four people in the country who like to write in to the White House about their great jobs!
But don't be too hard on Obama. Remember -- "When you do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy." Like tax cuts and offshore oil and gas development. That's about as groundbreaking as Leap Year.
Before I go to my favorite moment in Obama's speech, I want to return to his criticism of the Supreme Court. A few weeks ago, the Court ruled that the government can't curtail political spending by corporations in candidate elections. They can spend money freely in campaigns because -- according to the 1986 case Pacific Gas and Electric vs. Public Util' Comm'n -- corporations are citizens deserving of free speech.
Is there a problem with this logic? As usual, my point is best explained by quoting The Simpsons:
Moe: So, hi there. Don't scream!
Woman: Oh, hi! Want to join me for a Bacardi and soda?
Moe: (surprised) Yeah, that'd be great!
Woman: Or maybe you'd prefer a cool, refreshing Bacardi Colada!
Moe: Sure, whatever ...
Woman: Because Bacardi makes the night come alive -- with freshness!
Moe: Uh, do you work for Bacardi?
Woman: (Sarcastically) No. I'm in love with you. (Slaps a "Drink Rum" sticker on Moe's forehead and leaves.)
You don't have to be a legal scholar to understand that personifying a corporation is just plain funny. Justice Renquist agreed back in 1986 in his dissent of Pacific Gas and Electric vs. Public Util' Comm'n, saying that:
"To ascribe [corporations] an 'intellect' or 'mind' for freedom of conscience purposes is to confuse metaphor with reality."
In other words, corporations aren't people. They have no actual interest in self-expression. They're for profit. They have one priority -- legally, a requirement -- and that is to maximize wealth for their shareholders.
While we're at it, here's another way corporations differ from actual people: corporations have limited liability. Real people have actual liability, all the time, forever.
So that's why my favorite analogy by far was the "Government as Family" one:
"Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. [...] Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't."
Obama censured the Supreme Court for treating corporations like people. But if corporations aren't people, neither is the government.
It's illogical to equate budget cuts with the struggles of an actual family -- struggles which are deepened by the cutting of public housing, rent subsidies, and education. More than that, it's insulting. If Obama's response to political pressure is to become a budget hawk, fine. But if Obama insists on praising us for our "strenuous hope," maybe next time he can do actual cash-strapped families a favor and watch an episode of the Simpsons.