President Obama has just delivered his State of the Union Address. Below are my real-time observations (whose significance for posterity—especially my disquisition on trail mix—is undeniable).
But prior to all of that let me observe that this was the most education-saturated presidential address I have ever heard. Colleagues, for better or for worse, this one was for us:
8:45 “So, Jacques, what’s the over/under on tonight’s ‘Scripture bombs’?”
That’s the question reporters sometimes used to ask me before a major address by a president or a presidential candidate back in 2008.
Let me explain. A “Scripture bomb” is my term for the citation, whether explicit or covert, whether verbatim or glossed, of words from the Bible by a politician during a speech.
Going into tonight’s State of the Union I will give my standard prediction: the over/under is 3 biblical citations (unless the speaker is Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, or Joseph Lieberman circa 2000 then the number rises to 5).
So here we go:
9:06 The President is introduced. Shaking a lot of hands. Commanders in Chief really can’t be germophobes, can they? If I were president I would have my bodyman ready with the hand sanitizer. Or maybe he (or she) would just carry around an IV pole and the stuff would be directly funneled into my blood stream.
9:10 Not entirely appropriate, but our President really is a handsome man. He looks great tonight. Love that tie.
9:14 President Obama is addressing the Tuscon tragedy. Speaking of “common hopes and common dreams” and the importance not of sitting “together tonight, but working together tomorrow.”
9:15 An old Obamian theme—it’s not about Blue States or Red States it’s about the United States! The President is doubling down on bipartisanship. I am the Celine of the State of the Unions.
9:19: The specter of China’s progress is raised. I am sensing in my own wanderings a national inferiority complex as regards this country.
9:20 We have the best colleges and universities in the world, says the president. Somewhat disappointed that he didn’t point to Georgetown specifically, but I will let that one go.
9:22 There is a good cadence to this speech. Obama is in the groove. “Imagination,” “innovation,” “education,” “Google,” “Facebook.” These are the code words.
9:23 What we have here is a very business-friendly address. Emphasis on education should make education types very happy.
9:24 Our “Sputnick Moment” says Obama. The term “research and development” is used. Something that leads to jobs.
9:25 We need to reinvent ourselves, he exclaims. This speech is awash in references to Science and Technology. There are sectors of the American research university that are sure to love this SOU.
And Big Oil gets boarded by graceful skater, Left winger Obama!
9:26 I am ready to call it: This was the “education speech.” I can’t recall more references to science and education and school in a recent State of the Union.
He could have delivered this to the faculty of M.I.T.—would have been feted like a hero and permitted to strap on the faculty’s new experimental jet pack.
9:30 “Race to the Top” is the new paradigm, replacing “No Child Left Behind.” Schools, schools, schools.
9:32 Now we are pivoting to teachers. Again, new teachers for science, technology, and math. Would it kill the guy to mention sociology and literature in there as well? (Place smilin’ emoticon here).
9:33 Higher education? I didn’t see that coming. Community colleges no less. This is awesome! The most higher education relevant SOU in recent memory.
9:36 I started my career teaching at a community college and I can’t begin to describe how important they are to the future of this country—that’s me speaking, btw, not the president. He started teaching at the University of Chicago, if I am not mistaken.
9:37 Refracting immigration policy through his emphasis on education. Very intelligent. Education was the omphalos here. All of his policy initiatives have been correlated with education.
9:40 High-speed rail! Yes! Why the hell does it take three hours to high-speed from DC to NY? Don’t get me wrong I like the ACELA, but it’s more like the low-speed, high-speed train.
Ever taken a high-speed train in France? Enough said. NY to DC in 90 minutes or bust. I am on a hunger strike until we get that done. Will self-immolate on the quad too if necessary.
9:43 Also, might the president address the snack situation on the ACELA? For me pretzels and trail mix are the only viable alternatives. The staff is always nice, though. I really bonded with the conductors when I was commuting from NY to DC every week.
9:41 Back to tax inequality. Big oil earlier, now corporations. Not a losing issue I would say. Wait, he said “lower the tax rate on corporations”—I was too busy thinking about the trail mix.
9:44 The government is here to protect you from being exploited—insurance industry, food industry, those all need to be regulated. Government isn’t always bad, you see.
9:45 Now on to the health-care debate. We have moved away from education as the touchstone of the address but it was great while it lasted. “Let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.” Got that, House Republicans?
9:48 Freezing domestic spending for the next five years. Military spending is being cut. “But let’s make sure we are not doing it [the cuts] on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” Glenn Beck has taken note of that one, I assure you.
Up! Back to education and innovation. Again, refracting everything, save health care, through education.
9:51 This is where it might be more illuminating to have an economist doing the blogging. No tax cuts for wealthiest 2 percent of Americans—wait didn’t we agree to just the opposite in the lame duck session?
9:52 Simplify the tax code is the proposal. Mike Huckabee, for purposes of comparison, suggested putting a “Going Out of Business” sign on the door of the IRS in 2008.
9:52 Salmon. A crowd-pleaser. How government agencies regulate salmon. Salt-water, fresh-water, it’s all good to me.
9:53 “Rebuilding the people’s faith in the institution of government” via a Web site. Transparency always a good thing, I guess. Will veto a bill with earmarks. Is the president eating the Tea Party’s lunch (cue to a video of Clinton’s 1995 SOU)?
9:57 The foreign policy component of the address has begun. Sort of surprised this was not addressed earlier.
“American Muslims are a part of our American family.” First clear faith-based reference. This arose in a discussion of Al Qaeda. Seems like those who work for the Faith and Values Industrial Complex (like me) may have less work in 2012. A good thing, if you ask me.
10:01 First mention of Iran and North Korea. Axis of Evil no longer headlines at the SOU.
10:02 Reference to Southern Sudan. Now Tunisia. Bush-like assumption that everyone out there wants Democracy as well. Is that so?
I once had a student, from Pakistan who told me that in his way of seeing things theocracy was preferable to democracy. I always think about that and have noticed similar sentiments among traditionalists in Judaism and Christianity and Hinduism as well.
10:03 Ah! An unambiguous nod to our gay soldiers. Good for the President. And in return let the ROTC’s back on campus—again with the campus! This is The Chronicle’s SOU.
10:09 Roll call: Henderson, Hernandez, Cohen, working class, non-working class, students, roofers, Biden and Boehner—we’re all Americans here!
10:10 And now in a tip o’ the hat to Ronald Reagan, we get to learn about a great American: Brandon Fisher, who saved lives in the Chilean mining disaster.
10:13 Obama mentions college again. I am ready to dub this: The Higher Education State of the Union. Wait didn’t I do that already?
10:14 Oy! I think I heard a partial Scripture Bomb but missed it while writing about college and consuming trail mix.
Compared to the Bush-era SOU’s the absence of references to faith and Scripture here is notable.
My hasty tally reveals the president came in “under”: Obama spoke, generically, of America as “a light to the world” (invoking Isaiah 51:4). Perhaps his reference to “a better place beyond the horizon” is an allusion to Luke 14:10. So at 1.5 Scripture Bombs it seems that the president mostly avoided the Bible today.
Some have argued that the Democrats are less focused on F and V issues going forward into 2012. It’s too early to tell, but this address does lend some credence to that hypothesis.Return to Top