Watching Obama's 2016 State of the Union address last night, my wife and I were struck by how rarely Republicans applauded anything Obama said.
The Daily Kos has a partial list of the subjects that left Republicans cold and apathetic in "What did Republican lawmakers hate about President Obama's State of the Union address?"
For those keeping score at home, here are just some of the issues that President Obama raised during Tuesday’s State of the Union address that Republican Senators and Congressmen in attendance refused to clap for, let alone get off their asses and cheer:
- Nearly 15 million new jobs and the unemployment rate being cut in half.
- Equality for all Americans.
- Cutting pollution levels.
- A good education for our children.
- Fighting terrorism.
- The idea that America is the strongest nation on earth.
- Avoiding war.
- Making it easier to vote.
And—drumroll, please—saving the best for last …
- Curing cancer!
File this one under shit-you-can’t-make-up.
What made this display of extreme partisanism even more disturbing was this: while Republicans were deliberately failing to applaud things that are good for all Americans because Obama was mentioning them, Obama was talking about the urgent need to improve the atmosphere of our political discourse.
Here's some of what Obama said. I've boldfaced especially pertinent lines.
And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe most important thing that I want to say tonight. The future we want, all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.
A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.
But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t — it doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, it doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.
Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise or when even basic facts are contested or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.
Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have 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.
But my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any president’s — alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber — good people — who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.
Well, I'm not so sure about those last sentiments. Last night Republicans sure seemed like they enjoyed sitting on their hands when Obama talked about subjects that everybody in this country should support.
Like, curing cancer. And generating many millions of jobs the past seven years.
People often wrongly say that both sides -- left and right, liberal and conservative -- are responsible for the breakdown in Congressional cooperation.
Well, there's some truth to that, but Republicans have moved much farther to the right over the years than Democrats have moved to the left. This is a fact, as graphically illustrated in the Washington Post's "How Congress became so partisan, in 4 charts."
Here's the 2012 chart.
Ideology is along the horizontal axis. Conservative is to the right; liberal is to the left. Party unity scores are along the vertical axis. Greater party unity is up; less party unity is down.
You can see that Republicans (in red) are considerably more rightward ideological than Democrats (in blue) are leftward ideological. Numerically, .675 versus -.394 (0 is ideologically neutral). And quite a few more Democrats fail to vote with a majority of their party.
Here's how things looked back in less rancorous days, 1992.
It's cool how this chart looks like the wings of a bi-colored bird. Because back then, members of Congress could actually get together and agree on things in a bipartisan fashion.
Tellingly, the ideological scores for the two parties were much closer together then than they are now: Republicans were at .359; Democrats were at -.317.
So in twenty years, Congressional Republicans went rightward from .359 to .675. That's 88% more conservative.
During the same time period, Congressional Democrats went leftward from -.317 to -.394. That's 24% more liberal.
Thus Republicans have moved over three times more to the right than Democrats have moved to the left. Which means they are mostly responsible for the parties being so much farther apart these days.
Obama is trying to bring our country together again. Democrats like me are ready and willing to help with this. We just need some interest from Republicans.
Failing to applaud curing cancer, putting Americans back to work, and fighting terrorism isn't helping with this, GOP.