Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Republican #SOTU Response

In 2011, I posted a musing after the State of the Union address which poked at a couple of the President's less stellar ideas, and panned the soon-to-be-VP-nominee Rep. Paul Ryan's speech as "feeble." This year, after seeing Sen. Rubio's performance out-limbo even Ryan's, I was moved to tweet:
I feel a little bad about ladling on the criticism all the time without really putting my own ideas out there, so I figured I'd take a stab at writing my own rebuttal. This isn't necessarily "what the GOP ought to say" or "what I believe projected on the GOP" - but it is a speech which, if delivered by an actual Republican, would have impressed me far more than the empty pablum they have been repeating for the last few years. No doubt, Real True Republicans(tm) will object to the things I have to say - I would be surprised to earn even the dubious honor of "RINO" if I were a real Republican giving a speech like this.  But this is what I keep hoping to hear, so what the hell.  (Pay attention to the links I've embedded along the way - they are there to help you understand things that I left unsaid in the text.)

My Fellow Americans -

I want to congratulate President Obama on his success of the last four years, and his recent electoral victory. It is my sincerest hope that together, the President and our Congress will be able to break gridlock and move out of the past.

I am convinced that this is possible, because Mr. Obama fought hard for so many Republican ideas in his first term - such as the cap and trade plan to control carbon emissions, the mandate contained in his health care bill, and maintenance to President Eisenhower's visionary highway system. Rather than re-fight the battles of the past, we should face forward and do the hard work of governing. That means keeping a single shared goal in sight, and benefiting from the tension created by competing ideas about how to get there.

The President speaks of job creation, and in today's job market we all want to see growth of good paying, middle class jobs - but the federal government is not the best tool for spurring the growth of those jobs. The American people would be better served by a reduction of rules and overhead - and a reduction of wasteful legislative practices, which the President promised early in his first term.

My party worries a great deal about the size and intrusiveness of government, but that does not mean we do not share the same concerns the President has for individual consumers, borrowers, and independent entrepreneurs. It means that rather than creating new arms of bureaucracy to deal with past and future challenges - bureaucracies such as the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau or the U.S. Cyber Command - we should invest the limited resources we have in achieving our goals within existing structures. This could mean charging the FBI to more aggressively pursue fraud charges against the financial institutions who caused the financial meltdown; this could mean investing in computer security programs within our armed forces training commands as well as our public universities.

I applaud the President for finally taking a firm, public stance on the scientific consensus regarding climate change and the human activity driving global warming. There is little remaining doubt that something must be done, but much room for disagreement about what that something must be. As the President has stated many times, there is tremendous opportunity for job growth in moving to renewable sources of energy, but if this move is done right, it presents even more opportunity to expand individual freedoms. America's energy history shows that time and again, we build enormous, centralized infrastructures to power our homes and businesses, only to end up committed to maintaining them at public expense. We built the railroads partly to move coal to market, and then later built the grid of transmission lines to move electricity from centralized plants to even the most remote farms and communities.

The explosion in production of solar panels produced in the last few years - particularly in China - has presented the opportunity to cheaply embark on the creation of a system of distributed rooftop power generation where, for the first time in a long time, individuals can achieve the simple goal of capitalism: to own their own means of production. The technology isn't perfect, yet, but neither was electricity itself when our nation recognized that it should be available to everyone.

It should be easier to look inward and address our ailing infrastructure as the war in Afghanistan winds down. We should also turn our attention to caring for the millions who have served in combat for the past decade. They represent the core of our future defense on all fronts, and as a resource of knowledge and expertise, we should remain committed to rewarding their service with the dignity and respect of good jobs in areas where we have the most need. They have seen firsthand the best and worst of our massive defense apparatus, and are best able to help us choose and build the next generation of equipment, ships, and aircraft as we face our modern security challenges. Programs to help them retrain, retool, and recover from a decade of war are entitlement programs in the purest sense: programs to which they are entitled. We owe them no less.

The President makes some bold claims about deficit reduction, and if you look at the numbers a certain way, those claims are almost true.  America needs to have an informed conversation about spending and revenue. We need to face our spending obligations line by line and make some decisions about what is truly necessary to spend, and what should be shifted away from federal or even public funding.  Before we can talk about increasing revenues, we need to address the inherent unfairness built into our over-complicated tax code. We should take a hard look at ideas that have been ignored for years - such as flat-tax plans or simplified, graduated income taxes - and we should give them a fair hearing before raising any of our existing taxes.  In fact, rather than unrealistic pledges never to raise revenues, our leading parties should hold each others' feet to the fire and ensure that any increase comes with an equal or greater reduction elsewhere.

Reforming our broken and painful immigration system will help us face many of these challenges. Finding a way to bring the nearly 4% of us who are here illegally fully into the system will undoubtedly make us a healthier, richer society; encouraging more who want to come and work with us to build our future, help us care for our sick and elderly, and teach our children about the world is not only wise but noble. It is worth noting that as our largest generation ages, we will need more immigration to fill out the work force and increase our tax base. Increasing full participation in our economy is just one way we benefit from welcoming newcomers to our shores.

The last ten years have also left us facing some hard questions about who we are and how we protect and project our nation's interests abroad. Questions about our commitment to the rule of law and the protection of our own liberties have increasingly plagued us, and the answers we have come up with have only created more conflict while leaving us no safer. Promises of transparency have hidden the increased prosecution of leaks, and the President's record on humanitarian and civil liberties issues is no better than his much-maligned predecessor. Details we have learned in recent days about the President's drone program should give every American pause, regardless of party affiliation. We should all be asking who we think we are, and who we want to be.

It has also become evident in recent weeks that our society is ready to rethink the way we handle personal gun ownership. This is an emotionally charged issue which the President has tried to handle as moderately and pragmatically as everything else he has done in his tenure. I have no desire to try to take away the guns that belong to my responsible friends and neighbors, or to stigmatize them because of the actions of a few disturbed individuals. At the same time, the laws we have on the books have not done the job they were intended to do, and it's past time we addressed loopholes and poor enforcement practices that have allowed tragedies to occur with such alarming frequency.  It's true that no legislation will ever completely eliminate the risk that a determined aggressor will be able to acquire a weapon and harm others, but we should pay as much attention to the Founding Fathers' intention to have a "well-regulated militia" as we do to ensure that the right to bear arms is not infringed.

I believe that the lion's share of our efforts should go toward improving mental health services and education. This means that we should not just focus on individuals who exhibit behavior we don't understand and single them out for suspicion and ridicule; instead we should build stronger, more attentive, and more nurturing communities. Most often, problems go untreated simply because individuals and those around them are not aware that there is a problem until it is too late. Education is the key to addressing this, not only because getting the latest information out to the broadest number of people is important, but because instilling critical thinking skills and creating an evidence-based approach to the unknown is so crucial to our society's survival.  Rather than continuing a federal system that attempts to standardize teaching while eroding those crucial skills, we should find ways to incentivize parental involvement and reduce class sizes. Doing so will present better ways to teach and learn, and make it easier to identify, treat, and integrate those with different needs.  All of this will do more to reduce bullying and stereotyping than any legislation against such things ever could.

Our world is in a period of drastic transition and change. Change is frightening, but necessary. We need to adjust our approach to meet it together. Together, we have the tools we need to steer that change in ways that will improve the quality of our lives, reduce tension in the world, and heal the damages wrought by the turbulence of the past century. We can do better, because we are better.

May you all be worthy of your own best efforts.