State Of The State Of The Union

I watched President Obama’s 5th State of the Union out at the Cinema Grill in New Hope last night, at a party thrown by Americans For Prosperity, hosted by Siri Freeh and some guys. 

Main observations?  Well, first things first; this was the first time in a long time I’ve sat through an entire speech by this president.  And he’s still a first-rate orator.  Dad was a speech teacher, and I grew up listening to great speeches on LP (and have quite a few on my iPhone), Kennedy and Churchill and Martin Luther King and many more.  Speech is the family business.  And in a nation full of politicians who are usually groaningly awful public speakers, Obama is very, very good. 

Unfortunately, pretty much everything he said was vapor; Obamacare has nine million members only if you count Medicare subscribers who were already on the plan; we have “eight million jobs” at a time when we should have have many, many more in a normal economic recovery.  The unemployment rate is “dropping” only because people are leaving the work force.  Obama’s executive orders are either meaningless, skirt the Constitution, or both. 

The usual stuff.  Better people than me have fact-checked it and found it wanting.

For my part?  Three things jumped out at me.

Thunderous Silence:  Last year’s SOTU’s marquee issue was guns.  The 2013 State of the Union’s message to the law-abiding gun owner?  “Shut up or get cut up”. 

This year?  One fairly tepid paragraph – and the Democrats’ applause was more of the “golf clap” variety. 

Clearly, leading with guns hurt the Democrats last year; it nearly lost them the Colorado legislature, and it’s mobilized Real Americans in a way that has to have the Administration thinking of 1994 and 2010 (and Minnesota DFLers of 2002). 

I think the paragraph was a sop to the far-left, and not by any means an indication that the Administration or its minions are going to ease off their assault on the Second Amendment.  They’ve just switched from a frontal assault to a guerrilla war. 

Picking Artisan Cherries In 20 Pound Buckets:  I laughed out loud at the two businesses the President chose to trumpet his “income equality” “vision” last night; Costco and Saint Paul’s  Punch Pizza. 

I laughed out loud at both examples. 

Costco is not WalMart.  It’s a completely different business model.  It carries a tiny fraction of the number of individual items that a WalMart or Target or Cub Foods does; they are located in fairly well-to-do areas.  The idea is to provide high service for limited items to a well-off market, using higher-skill workers in what is, in the world of big-box retail, more of a high-service environment.  There are many fewer classic “entry-level” jobs at Costco; they aim to hire skill and retain it – in an environment and business model that finances it.  In short, very few of even their lowest-level workers are “low-skill” in the classic sense of the term. 

They don’t pay minimum wage, because they don’t have “entry-level” jobs; they choose to pay more to attract a higher-skill worker. 

Punch is similar; it’s a high-end pizzeria in a posh neighborhood that aims toward a high-value clientele on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul; I wouldn’t doubt that in a neighborhood full of “living wage” activists, starting people at $10 an hour is good marketing.  But Punch Pizza is no Taco Bell; it’s a tony niche retailer that gives a robust markup for an uptown dining experience.  And again – I’m going to suggest that Mr. Punch gets to pick and choose who he hires. 

And in both cases, Costco and Punch are exercising their free will to hike their base wage.  Maybe it makes sense given their business model.  Maybe it’s a gamble that’ll backfire on them.  But it’s something the market – not the law – will sort out. 

For now. 

Outsourcing Liberty:  But the biggest laugh-out-loud line of the night was when the President ran down (a very indulgent interpretation of) his foreign policy “accomplishments”. 

He said “From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and to have a say in their country’s future”. 

And I couldn’t stop myself from replying “But here, we sic the IRS on dissenters!”. 

For all President Obama’s soaring, deft rhetoric, and all his vaporous claims, that is the real truth of Barack Obama’s five years in office; underneath the flowery messaging, an ugly, repressive. authoritarian reality, jamming a square free people into a round statist hole. 

And that’s the state of our union.

29 thoughts on “State Of The State Of The Union

  1. Mitch, I’ve got to gently disagree with you on whether Obama is really a great orator. Pleasant enough speaking voice, presence at the podium, yes, but I’ve never been able to listen to him for more than ten seconds without realizing that he really doesn’t believe what he’s saying. He’s far, far worse in this than even Clinton.

    In contrast, I just saw a bit from Jimmy Carter, with whom I disagree almost as much as I disagree with Obama, but there was a class about him that is entirely lacking in Obama.

  2. I forced myself to watch the whole damn speech, having listened so many times to him spewing rhetoric I’ve come to the opinion that he is much more the carnival barker than gifted orator.

  3. I have to agree with bikebubba, the guy has great technical technique but he’s transparently an affected performer, all surface and no depth.

  4. You could hang out with a lot worse than Siri Freeh. The other two well, you at least have a common bond in the wacko lefty stalker department with one of them. Say isn’t Siri going to be your opposite soon if only for an hour?
    As for the speech? Not wasting my time watching or listening to the FG.
    As for Costco, I’m a weekly shopper there and the number of employees per square foot in the place is fractional compared to Wal-Mart. They have lower margin percentages but have higher turns and dollars of profit per item sold. And Barry isn’t talking about the ’employee’s’ one sees much more than the Costco ‘worker’s’: The old folks (mostly women) who hand out the samples of bagel bites and bean dip get paid less than regular Costco employees and get no benefits (it’s a Medi-caire Miracle!) as they are employed by a contract firm named CDS.

  5. That’s the thing about Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart hires people to work at their University Ave location that would never be considered for employment at Punch Pizza.

  6. You think it is a great oration technique to never look at your audience and never stray your gaze from a teleprompter? Your ceredentials to pose as an authoruty on the matter have hereby been revoked, sir!

  7. Scott, the carnival barkers just called and want an apology. I think JPA’s comment clarifies a lot about what I dislike about his speaking. No connection with the audience–he’s above the rest of us, donchaknow?

    I personally think it’s time for Congress, when Obama strays into obvious falsehoods, to start chanting “bulls***!”. He’d not have gotten very far into his speech, but that would be OK.

  8. “It carries a tiny fraction of the number of individual items that a WalMart or Target or Cub Foods does”. OK but wouldn’t that fact imply Costco employees were lower skilled than Wal-Mart ect? It would seem like tracking and stocking fewer items would take less skill and experience.

  9. If the job was linearly correlated with number of SKUs, and primarily inventory and upstock, that might be true.

    It is not.

    Even at a Walmart, it’s not the minimum wage employees that track SKUs. And finding things on a shelf and upstocking isn’t an especially high-skill job; I did it working at a tobacco warehouse when I was 15.

  10. The point of the lower number of SKUs isn’t a matter of employee skill; it’s a matter of focus of effort toward a marketing strategy.

    Rather than trying to sell every product a family in their area might need, from aspirin to TVs to every variety of grocery everyone in the area might need to school supplies to video games, Costco focuses on bulk lots of fewer things that people of a certain (higher) income level buy in bulk. With fewer SKUs, the stores spend less time and (low-skilled) effort on grunt-labor jobs like stocking, and more on everything else that needs to be done (with fewer, higher-skilled, higher-paid people).

    Example: rather than paying several people $7.50/hour to put thirty varieties of aspirin bottles on shelves, they just bring a palette of Brand Z Aspirin out on a fork-lift and drop it in the right spot on the floor.

  11. “Costco has a tiny number of SKUs in a huge store — and consequently, has half as many employees per square foot of store. Their model is less labor intensive, which is to say, it has higher labor productivity. Which makes it unsurprising that they pay their employees more.”
    It’s worth reading whole article.
    People who don’t like capitalism and don’t understand how it works shouldn’t give advice on how to make money to capitalists.
    On my Island there are two major population centers, Hilo and Kailua. Each has a Walmart and a Target. There is only one Costco, in Kailua, a two hour drive from Hilo. Hilo has double the population of Kona. Hilo is more down-scale. Despite the larger population, there aren’t enough people in the right demographic to make it worthwhile for Costco to open an outlet in Hilo.
    In Kailua, despite the fact that it is just a few miles from Costco, the Walmart is jammed full of people all day long.

  12. The frightening thing about the president is that he’s backed in a corner by super-low ratings, Obamacare, Bengazi, and the rest. He will show no restraint in defending his position by generating whatever activity it will take to get the public and media off topic. Engaging in noble sounding, but clearly immoral and procedurally wrong behaviors might be the only thing he sees as an escape.

    He can do a lot of damage to this end and not think twice about anything but how it may help him. This captain won’t go down with his ship unless he accidentally breaks a leg grabbing for the first lifejacket.

  13. It’s instructive to compare Obama’s public demeanor post 2010 democrat slaughter with the public demeanor of Bush post 2006. Obama doesn’t think that he’s my president, he is clearly in the business of f*cking over the 47% who voted for the other guy. Strong objections to being forced to pay for your employees’ abortion? “Screw you, the feminists voted for me and they want you to pay.”
    It’s the Chicago way.

  14. I think the test of this speech is: do we now have a clearer idea of what the president wants to do with his remaining time in office? I don’t think I do. I’m not sure he does.

    I also listened to the GOP response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Heavy on the personal story, light on everything else. Lots of promises of plans and promotions of plans, but no plans. I don’t understand–she kept making reference to a plan. But it seemed good natured. Maybe that’s progress.

  15. I’ve never heard of this Cathy McMorris Rodgers person. Is she supposed to be a conservative? Obama’s plan seems to be to circumvent the constitution. I guess he is both lawmaker and executive these days.
    I liked Ted Cruz’s response to the SOTU:
    “Most strikingly, when over five million Americans found their health insurance plans canceled because ObamaCare made their plans illegal—despite the president’s promise “if you like your plan, you can keep it”—President Obama simply held a news conference where he told private insurance companies to disobey the law and issue plans that ObamaCare regulated out of existence.”

  16. I also listened to the GOP response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Heavy on the personal story, light on everything else. Lots of promises of plans and promotions of plans, but no plans.

    Like every other response to every other state of the union.

    Also like every state of the union.

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  18. PM:
    Indeed, one of the big problems with government supplied healthcare is that most of the spending is not in fact a good investment. Most of the time you see a doctor, you would have gotten better anyway and his actions or advice are irrelevant. Many of the truly serious diseases that you might see a doctor for don’t actually have a cure. Most of the increase in lifespan and decrease in child mortality seen in the last 150 years is due to clean water, sewers, higher food quality and quantity, and a few pharmaceuticals (antibiotics, mostly). Very little is due to what doctors deliver, which is mostly a psychological benefit. Doctors don’t make us better, they make us feel better. How much should society pay for that? Most democracies have decided that we should pay an awful lot, but because we have chosen to invest our wealth unproductively on health care rather than things like better infrastructure and education, we are a less productive society with less spare wealth to spend on more useful things than doctors and nurses.

  19. MBerg:
    The SOTU response really is a thankless job. Whatever the speech’s quality it inevitably seems either small or shrill.

    Although Rodgers’ statement regarding opportunity equality is a rather scary concept if you think about what government action would be required to bring it about.

  20. Although Rodgers’ statement regarding opportunity equality is a rather scary concept if you think about what government action would be required to bring it about.

    If people who support Barack Obama thought about “Government actions required to bring things about”, this’d be a very different country .

  21. “Although Rodgers’ statement regarding opportunity equality is a rather scary concept if you think about what government action would be required to bring it about.”

    It’s scary only if you think government should take ANY action. I agree that hiring Compliance Monitors to scrutinize every new hire would be a nightmare.

    The alternate option is: do nothing. Let people compete for jobs on individual merit. Those who studied in school and worked hard at entry level jobs will get promoted. Those who were socially promoted in school and affirmative action job hires will go nowhere.

    Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action are antithetical concepts. Pick one.

  22. “How much should society pay for that? Most democracies . . . invest . . . unproductively on health care . . . we are a less productive society with less spare wealth to spend on more useful things than doctors and nurses.”

    You have answered your own question, Emery. Society should spend nothing on health care. Obama-care is exactly the wrong approach.

    How much should individuals spend on their own health care? Whatever they want to spend to feel good, same as going to the fortune teller or the strip club: individual choice, set your own budget, personal freedom. Government program not required.

    Safety net? Charity hospitals run by nuns, supported by voluntary donations.

  23. I didn’t watch the SOTU because theres no government subsidy to replace my television on the very likely event I would throw the remote at it.

    Hell, I didn’t think to go watch it at a pub where I could simply hurl a half empty beer mug at someone elses flat screen!

  24. Seriously, I did not watch it because this Presidents every speech amounts to a swindler with a shell game.

    The focus is directed away from each and every failure to talk about the latest “crisis”. Completely ignoring that each and every “crisis’ is created by an ever intrusive and over-reaching, power hungry government.

    Income inequality is greater now than when this tyrant was elected. Of course, what other outcome would one expect when you drive millions out of the work force with the most inane of economic policies?

    Who would fare better after losing a job, the one who is living paycheck to paycheck or the one who has a few hundred thousand or so to invest? Not to mention that likely it’s those on the lower end of the income scale who have left the workforce entirely and are no longer even counted.

    Raising the minimum wage will ensure less and less at the lower end of the income spectrum will be able to find work.

    Of course, this is by design (along with the ACA), to drive more and more to government dependence.

  25. Adrian I agree with your point of view, but I probably would have substituted “inane of economic policies” with “insane of economic policies”.

  26. I loved the part where Obama said he’d go around congress and pass and enforce laws himself, and congress responded with applause. A scene right out of Augustan Rome.

  27. PM – I’d be concerned to, but given his track record of actually executing his plans and going beyond mere “words”, not much need to worry…
    ” ‘I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America,” [President Obama] said. ‘We all know there’s a lot more that we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.’ Afterward, Obama departed to Hawaii for nearly three weeks of golf, family time and thinking about how to correct the course of his presidency. Others on his senior staff did the same.”–Scott Wilson, Washington Post, Jan. 26

  28. Like defacto amnesty for illegals? The man is changing the demographic makeup of the country without going through congress. If George the III had flooded the colonies with thousands of Canadian Loyalists in the 1770’s it would rightly have been seen as the act of a tyrant.

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