Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Running Against Washington

President Obama raised some valid points about the need for economic renewal for working Americans in tonight's State of the Union.  And there were some well-turned phrases, too.

However, there is a crucial tension in the president's remarks.  At the end of this speech, the president seemed to pivot to run against Washington:
So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America's hopes. I've served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for -- arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.
Understand -- a better politics isn't one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than "gotcha" moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people's daily lives.
This appeal to a "better politics" is all well and good.  However, it crashes into the fact that the White House and its allies have devoted considerable energy to demonizing its opponents.  The president may be trying to run against Washington, but, as chief executive, he has had a considerable role in shaping national politics.

Rather than better politics, we have all too often seen trolling politics out of the White House.  It is the president who has chosen the lonely road of executive supremacy rather than constitutional consensus.  It is the president who has often appealed to the resentments of class warfare.  It is the president's allies who constantly try to paint all opposition to the "progressive" cause du jour as the product of bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and greed.

Moreover, even as the president runs against Washington, his agenda seeks to concentrate even more power---for health-care, education, etc.---in the bureaucratic apparatus of the federal capital.

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