Oh yes, I watched the State of the Union address on Jan. 12. Given that I am a certifiable political nerd, I simply would not have missed it! And I also watched the Republican response by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Both were well worth hearing if for no other reason: both condemned religious, racial and ethnic bigotry.
In fact, anyone who lives on a steady diet of the political rhetoric dished out by Trump/Cruz/Rubio/Christie and company probably believes that the United States is going to hell in a handbasket. According to that crew, nothing is right, the country is on the wrong track about everything and Obama has done a lousy job (And if current polling is accurate, a lot of Trump and Cruz supporters believe this).
This rhetoric is so overblown that it defies logic -- or common sense, even in a polarized political campaign. Of course, we face problems, and many of them could be solved if the Republican Congress would work with Obama. Interestingly, Obama accepted some responsibility for this state of affairs. "It's one of the few regrets of my presidency," he said, "that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There's no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I'll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office." I'm waiting for Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell to accept responsibility for the Republican role in this statemate. In this case, it takes two to "NOT tango!"
However, Obama was deservedly upbeat about his accomplishments, especially in the economic sphere. He said simply, "Anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction." Then he described how economic complexities affect jobs here in the United States, and he acknowledged that wealth tends to gravitate to the top of the economic pecking order.
I was also delighted that he spent real time on climate change. He echoed the call of Pope Francis when he said, "we've got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy … I'm going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet."
But I have to confess, I was most pleasantly surprised by Nikki Haley's message about immigrants: "During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices," she said. "We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country." She knows; she is the daughter of immigrants. No wonder she is under attack from the far right.
People like Nikki Haley used to be the Republican frontrunners for the presidential nomination. No more. It's sad, and it's a loss for everyone, Republican or not.
Obama ended his speech by saying that the "state of the Union" is "strong." I would assess it differently. I think the "state of the Union" right now is rent asunder by crazy, polarizing rhetoric, most of it coming from candidates like Trump and Cruz. Some of it, rejecting immigrants, Muslims and others, and insulting even disabled people, is downright un-American. It's time we came to our collective senses and looked at the best of our heritage: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. …" That echoes the message of the sacred scriptures of many traditions.
And oh yes … isn't that engraved on an iconic statue? The Statue of Liberty maybe?