Study in contrasts

Watching Obama soar made me hopeful. Watching Rubio stumble made me confident.

Watching the President hit the SOTU out of the park – with John Boehner looking sour and refusing to applaud some very popular proposals – made me hopeful.

Watching supposed Republican savior Rubio give a speech suitable to the president of the Tea Party Youth Club at a second-rate high school made me confident.

Obama has learned to wrap liberal proposals in patriotic, common-sense rhetoric. The Republicans have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Footnote I switched off before Rubio’s lunge for the water bottle.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

27 thoughts on “Study in contrasts”

  1. The only non-American mentioned by name was Aung San Suu Kyi. Nice. Better:

    But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.

  2. Thanks for the transcript; I never watch these things, my wife gets mad about my shouting at the TV. 😉

    “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

    Because it’s not like we have a constitutional Republic where the legislature writes the laws, and the President is only charged with upholding them. You’re saluting the President’s declaration that, if Congress doesn’t pass the laws he wants, he’ll act as a dictator, and enforce the laws they didn’t enact.

    I swear, if 3 years from now Obama announces that the situation is too dire for his work to be interrupted by an election, you guys will cheer about the coup. You’re already letting him slide on policies you claimed were war crimes under Bush. Heck, the Director of National Intelligence refused, when confronted point blank, to state that the Administration lacked the power to assassinate US citizens in America, and hardly a peep.

    Do you have a line you won’t let him cross?

    1. have you never read anything by glenn greenwald? noam chomsky? there are people out there offering a critique of the obama administration from the left. i freely admit that it is a profound disappointment to write letters to the white house pissing and moaning about the same damned stuff i did when bush was in office but i still do it. i want you to remember that it was the bush national security team that opened this can of worms eleven and a half years ago and if the worm still turns it’s on all of us because we all have blood on our hands. so get off your high horse and say something germane.

    2. On climate breakdown? None. It’s an existential threat to civilisation. After Cannae, the Romans revived human sacrifice: they didn’t even believe it in any more, it was just to show that there was nothing they would not do to defeat Hannibal. I hope and on good days believe that we can get to zero carbon by democracy, but if we can’t, then a Roman dictatorship will do.
      All Obama, nobody’s idea of Fabius Cunctator, is actually intending to do is enforce the existing laws strictly. CO2 is a pollutant.

    3. From the SOTU speech:

      But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct…

      I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

      Read more:

      So, Brett, explain exactly how this is the collapse of our Republic into dictatorship and how it is an omen of a future coup d’etat?

      Or do you hold that Executive orders are all blatantly unconstitutional?

    4. Brett, you should listen to your wife!
      Really, when a person is so angry they are reduced to yelling at TVs, they have stopped listening, thinking.

      1. Nah, I just spent most of my life solitary, before marrying late in life, and developed an unfortunate habit of talking back to the TV. Reading the speech, I find it banal and predictable, designed to please his intended audience, provided they make no effort to compare the promises to past performance. I expect the delivery was workman-like, if you ignore Obama’s odd cadence. Still, more cause for eye rolling than genuine anger.

        We’re expected to believe the deficit problem solved, and the time for more and more spending here, when his own commission predicts massive deficits into the indefinite future, ballooning back to trillion dollar levels within a few years. (Assuming they ever get away from them.) We’re supposed to respond to shrinking workforce participation with, of all things, labor price controls, (that’s what the minimum wage is) which I suppose makes sense if you’re bragging about jobs created in THIS economy. We’re supposed to save the children from incidents like at Sandy Hook with laws which would have had no effect at Sandy Hook. He’ll no longer tolerate the fact that Congress won’t enact his agenda, but I’ve already remarked on his contempt for the idea that anybody else in government has any say over policy or law.

        Ayn Rand could have created this guy, if she were into dark comedy.

        1. Ayn Rand could have created this guy, if she were into dark comedy.

          As opposed to the inadvertent comedy in which she excelled.

        2. “He’ll no longer tolerate the fact that Congress won’t enact his agenda.” It won’t enact anybody’s agenda. Obama doesn’t confront a cohesive Republican-controlled Congress, but one where the House Republican majority, the Senate Democratic majority, and the Republican Senate minority can all veto legislation they don’t like, and none can push through what they do like. With Congress broken, it’s not surprising that Obama feels he has to mind the store alone.

  3. I was only half-listening, but didn’t Rubio praise student loans and medicare as central to his own success, then go into a lengthy dismissal of government’s ability to help people be successful?

  4. Why is it suddenly a BFD when a politician takes a drink of water in the middle of a speech? If it had been absinthe, sure, but water?

    1. It wasn’t a BFD that he took a drink of water.

      It was a big deal (because small things tell us about bigger things) that:
      1. He had to dive off camera to get his water, rather than having it in front of him;
      2. He did not have a glass of water — he had a bottle of water.

      The bottle is a medium deal because while it is possible to gracefully take a sip (even a long sip) from a glass, it is nearly impossible to do that from a bottle. Rubio did a particularly graceless job of the whole exercise.

      Message: We’re so incompetent we can’t even remember to put a glass of water near our speaker. That is covered in public speaking 101.

      1. and is there as big an issue with plastic water bottles in the US as in other countries, from an environmental point of view? They are widely considered a BAD THING when tap water is healthy.

    2. It’s a BFD because him being a member of the enemy party, and daring to speak up against the Supreme Leader, they had to make a BFD about SOMETHING, or else what he actually SAID might have become the subject of coverage.

      Or maybe the very absurdity of it is just a demonstration of power: “The media are in our pocket, it doesn’t matter what you do, we’ll ruin you. If we have to, we can turn taking a sip of water into a scandal. We have that much control over the narrative.”

      Of course it’s not a BFD. Trillion dollar deficits are BFDs. Claiming the power to assassinate Americans without judicial review, and refusing to rule out doing it IN America, is a BFD. Agency administrators using fake names and secret email accounts to violate FOIA is a BFD.

      But you have to manufacture BFDs, when the real BFDs are nothing you want to talk about.

  5. There should be an annual contest among regular RBC contributors and readers as to who can watch the Republican response to the SOTU longest without turning off the TV or changing the channel. I only lasted until Rubio made the allegation that the housing meltdown was due to government regulation. I missed the “Big Gulp” and had to be content with seeing it later on the news shows.

  6. I could not care less about the water thing.

    Blaming the barely-averted collapse of the world economy on the CRA, etc., on the other hand, is unforgivable. Proof that he’s just another guy in a pack of liars and not worth listening to.

    I’ve voted for a Republican for the US Senate in my lifetime. It seems unlikely I’ll be voting for one for anything at all for the rest of my life and it’s not because I’ve become more doctrinaire–quite the contrary. It’s that whole reality thing.

  7. And, “That’s the Thing,” isn’t it?

    Where would flight be if Bernoulli’s Law of Aerodynamics were denied? Where would medicine be if infection was considered a ruse? And, where would civilization be if physics was synonymous with witchcraft?

    Ask the Republicans:

    “Last year (2012) the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
    ( Washington Post, 7/9/12)

    But, what is so profoundly maddening is that the solutions to our artificially intractable problems are so simple a college freshman of average intelligence could fix them in a snap.

    Social Security going broke? Raise the maximum cutoff slightly. Problem fixed.

    Medicare insolvent? Negotiate pharmaceuticals. Problem fixed.

    Social Inequality? Eliminate Corporate Welfare. Problem fixed.

    Budget Deficit? Reduce military spending to that of China, Japan, U.K, France, & Russia…….Combined. (It is now double that) Problem fixed.

    Just making these reductions could lower income taxes to a point where a majority of our citizens could be millionaires.

    Of course, this is just a fun exercise to illustrate what would be possible if corruption was taken seriously.


    1. Ask the Republicans:

      “Last year (2012) the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
      ( Washington Post, 7/9/12)

      Funniness ensues whenever the Texas Lege convenes itself. My college just completed a reaccreditation review: one of the big deals to the review team was, “teaching critical thinking skills,” and assessing said skills. Having had some experience with this, higher ed is the wrong place to start teaching those skills.

    2. “Where would flight be if Bernoulli’s Law of Aerodynamics were denied?”

      I suppose about where nuclear power would be if radiation hormesis were denied, and the LNT model were used in spite of all the evidence it’s a load of BS.

      1. speaking as someone who wouldn’t mind seeing more nuclear power plants of modern design as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, i don’t think public resistance to building new nuclear power plants has as much to do with the relative harm or harmlessness of doses of radiation within 1 order of magnitude of background radiation as it has to do with a few spectacular failures of past designers and power companies over the last few decades. since nuclear power would make an excellent auxiliary with which to provide stable flows of power to a grid making use of sporadic sources like wind and solar, i think it is altogether regrettable that this is the case but i think you’re pointing to the wrong culprits.

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