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Politics as Usual: Obama made case for reelection during address [OPINION]

February 8, 2012

This week, Gov. Lincoln Chafee gives his State of the State speech, a companion piece to the budget that will be introduced in the House of Representatives a few hours earlier.
It’s a safe bet that presentation won’t have the air of political theater that Chafee’s old Senate buddy, President Barack Obama, had in his State of the Union address a week ago.
Since my job last Tuesday was to listen to the President’s speech and elicit comment afterward from members of our congressional delegation, I was stuck in the newsroom listening to the speech on radio (WPRO) over the computer I was working on. Having watched State of the Union extravaganzas at least 20 times, I knew I wasn’t getting the full effect from that little speaker in the back of the computer tower.
So when I wrapped up for the night, I went home to catch the replay on Fox News Channel (yes, I am that pathetic).
The first thing that struck me was that, in some camera angles, Obama seemed to be standing in the middle of four heavenly shafts of white light beaming down on him as he delivered his message. “How did John Boehner (Speaker of the House) let that happen?” was my first thought. He must know the optics of that chamber as well as anyone. I’m surprised Boehner didn’t have a Capitol Police officer shoot out those lights two minutes into the speech.
Then, as the president was moving into the part of his speech about millionaires paying taxes, the camera fixed on this pleasant but non-descript middle-aged woman sitting in the audience. I didn’t recognize her as a senator or representative, so I turned to my wife and said, “please tell me that isn’t Warren Buffett’s secretary.” Obama hadn’t even mentioned Buffet’s name at that point, but somehow, I knew. Who else could it be?
Sure enough, when Obama did identify Buffett by name, the camera went back to that woman and a little banner at the bottom of the screen read: “Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett’s secretary.” Bosanek is, of course, famous for allegedly paying federal taxes at the same rate as her billionaire boss. It only stands to reason that some White House functionary got the bright idea to use her as a prop for the president’s speech
OK, we’ve focused on the optics, how about the content?
My favorite part of the speech came just a few paragraphs in, when the president talked about: “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.
The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
If he can’t get re-elected on that platform, then this country really has gone terribly wrong. If the Obama campaign does not have at least three different commercials in the fall featuring that snatch of the State of the Union address, then his entire political staff should be fired.

* Not only has Cranston West student Jessica Alhquist given all of Rhode Island a lesson in how to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances, she has also generated economic development in the state – at least as far as the t-shirt business is concerned.
There is now a t-shirt war in Rhode Island and two specimens are apparently flying off the shelves. One of the shirts, sold by Ahlquist sympathizers to benefit a college scholarship for the courageous young lady, simply says “Evil Little Thing.” That what state Rep. Peter Palumbo of Cranston called Alhquist on John DePetro’s radio show. (Evil, Rep. Palumbo, really? A 16-year-old high school girl? Geez.) Palumbo backed off a sentence or two later, saying “I don’t think she’s evil; I think she’s being coerced by evil people.” Take that, ACLU’s Steven Brown!
The competing t-shirts, being sold by people who want to “preserve” the prayer banner at the center of the controversy, features a reproduction of the prayer banner itself.
That strikes me as a good idea, because it may prompt some of the people who have been howling so loudly about the banner to actually read what it says.
I know it shouldn’t, but it has baffled me that the people who argue so strongly for keeping the banner in place seem to ignore just about everything that it says.
Let’s go through the prayer, and see how strictly its defenders are upholding its tenets:

Our Heavenly Father, (yup, it’s a prayer all right, but I guess the heading “School Prayer” already established that)
Grant us each day the desire to do our best, (OK)
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically, (maybe that is what this fiasco will help them do in the end, maybe)
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, (oops, not exactly living up to that one, are they?)
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others, (another no; to be honest, wouldn’t supporters have to acknowledge that prayer in school has been outlawed since the year before the banner went up?)
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, (uh, does that mean court decisions too?)
Teach us the value of true friendship, (they sure taught Jessica that important lesson, didn’t they?)
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West. (Is that what all those news accounts of angry, screaming people have done?)
Amen (Yeah, you said it)

The amazing thing is that this is still in the news. Obviously, it will remain so as long as the Cranston School Committee painfully stretches out the decision on whether or not to appeal the federal court ruling that the banner is unconstitutional.
School Committee members seem stymied, frightened into head-in-the-sand indecision about how to answer a political question: Do you futilely spend taxpayer money on a surely losing cause at the appeals court level or do you face the wrath of screaming voters who have whipped themselves up into an irreligious fervor over this issue? Leadership is called for here, but since we haven’t seen any in this whole situation except from Jessica Ahlquist, I wouldn’t expect it to come anytime soon.

Jim Baron covers politics and the statehouse in Rhode Island for the Rhode Island Media Group. He can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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