In an earlier essay, David Bromwich noted that whereas other presidents’ have been judged for their performance, Obama is unique in so far as his performance is measured mainly in terms of his oratory. Following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, Obama garnered much praise for peroration at the memorial service. For many it was the return of the yes-we-can, inspirational preacher politician. The same style — what Bromwich calls ‘a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there’ — also carried over into his 2011 State of the Union speech (video at bottom). In this excellent piece, Bromwich — one of PULSE’s Top 10 Thinkers of 2010, and one of the most astute observers of Washington politics — once again subjects Obama to his extraordinarily perceptive analysis.
Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address was an organized sprawl of good intentions—a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there. And it did not fail to celebrate the American Dream.
In short, it resembled most State of the Union addresses since Ronald Reagan’s first in 1982. Perhaps its most notable feature was an omission. With applause lines given to shunning the very idea of government spending, and a gratuitous promise to extend a freeze on domestic spending from three years to five, there was only the briefest mention of the American war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation in each country was summarized and dismissed in three sentences, and the sentences took misleading care to name only enemies with familiar names: the Taliban, al-Qaeda. But these wars, too, cost money, and as surely as the lost jobs in de-industrialized cities they carry a cost in human suffering.
Now we watch the people in Tunisia and Egypt demonstrate against their police states while, closer to home, we are witnessing the creation, slowly but surely, of a police state of our own. The irony is that while others may be dismantling theirs, ours is being created even before we have a fully fledged state.
Now the wave is coming. I will venture to say that the Egyptian regime has already fallen: it might take some time, but the fear, the perception that the regime is invincible has gone once and for all. All this is followed quite closely in Palestine; any future intifada will not be directed only against the occupation, but also against any Palestinian entity that co-operates with the occupation. Tunisia sent out the message that client regimes fall – that if we can drive the empires out, we will surely be able to drive out their vassals.
As I write, demonstrations rage in the streets of Cairo: everyone knows that if they stay at home, they will be compromising the safety of those in the streets, as well as their own freedom. Cairo knows and Cairo moves. Ramallah worries that an empowered Cairo means an empowered Gaza, and Tel Aviv and Washington know that instead of just Iran, they will now have to worry about Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine all at once.