Dissing the demagogues: Obama’s State of the Stump speech

     President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

    President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

    At the House podium last night, President Obama gave us a mixed message. He urged everyone to lower their partisan voices in the spirit of comity — but at the same time, he ripped Donald Trump a new one.

    Hey, why not. The Donald — and fellow demagogue Ted Cruz — deserved a good lashing. Obama is surely just as sickened as the rest of us by the toxic antics of the Republican frontrunners, and it was past time for a little pushback. (Trump versus Cruz is a choice between vile and bile.) And heck, the State of the Union is a worthless speech anyway. Presidents always say that the nation is strong, that Congress should pass the laundry list du jour, and God bless America. I’ve been writing about them for 20 years, and darned if I can remember more than a handful of lines.

    So what Obama basically did was to kick off campaign ’16 with a State of the Stump speech, to rebuke the top Republicans for trolling in their cesspool. Will his efforts sway many minds? Doubtful. Nevertheless, it was great to hear stuff like this:

    “America has been through big changes before  —  wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears.”

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    Translation: That cap on Trump’s head is stupid.

    “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”

    Translation: We don’t need to market fear in order to make ourselves “great again.” We’re already great.

    “I told you earlier that all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.”

    Translation: Trump and his rivals should quit trying to sow fear by maligning America.

    “Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks ….We have to take them out. But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is ‘World War III’ just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious.”

    Translation: Chris Christie is a chump for ISIL when he talks about ‘World War III.’

    “Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world  —  in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”

    Translation: Cruz’s thirst for “carpet-bombing” makes him look like an idiot.

    “(W)e need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of ‘political correctness.’ It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not ‘telling it like it is.’ It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”

    Translation: Trump’s demagoguery and racism embody our basest instincts. We deserve better.

    “As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background. We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen …. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”

    Translation: In this election, let’s be America at its best.

    Let’s hope so.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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