There wasn't a lot very specific in President Obama's State of the Union speech last night; mostly it was vague generalities with little that could be pinned down. And much was about foreign policy, which I'm not going to comment on here. But considering the domestic side, even though it was all very general, an overall vision still comes through. A good summary of that vision is what I wrote on my ABOUT page as the basics of the Manhattan/progressive orthodoxy:
The central tenet of [the] orthodoxy is that all personal problems of the people in society can be solved by government taxing and spending. . . . A few subsidiary tenets of the orthodoxy . . . include: the government has infinite capacity to tax and spend and does not need to make any choices about spending priorities; the government has an infinite ability to borrow; an appropriate function of government is to take on all down-side risk of life so that no individual ever needs to worry about loss of anything. . . .
So early in the speech we got a typical pie-in-the-sky list of how the government should take on and pay for some laundry list of new things that you might find difficult or expensive in your life. No costs were mentioned, of course; nor was there mention that we may have any priorities that may come before any of these things; nor that anything else in the budget might ever have to be cut; nor that the government's ability to tax and borrow and spend is anything other than infinite and free and costless to the individual citizen. And, of course, the concept that it might not be such a great idea to replace individual responsibility for many things with collective responsibility for everything -- that concept is just beyond considering in polite company. Here is an excerpt:
[W]e should build on [the] progress [of No Child Left Behind], by providing Pre-K for all and offering every student offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one. We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids. And — and we have to make college affordable for every American. No hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments by — to 10 percent of a borrower’s income. And that’s good. But now we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year. It’s the right thing to do. But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits, and protections that provide a basic measure of security. . . . That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever, we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.
And on from there. But you get the picture. Somewhere along the line he also promised a whole new approach to eliminating poverty (no specifics, but is there really any chance that he would ever agree to cut a dime of the current trillion +/- per year -- that never reduces poverty by a single soul -- before launching the raft of new programs?); plus a transformation of our entire energy economy in a ridiculous attempt to influence the weather; and, best of all, a cure for cancer! Hey, government can do anything and everything, and it's just a question of spending enough of the infinite money! And then, toward the end of the speech, came the usual call to end the "rancor" in Washington and "work together" and "compromise" (all, of course, to accomplish his agenda of infinite activist government):
[Democracy] doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. . . . 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. . . . It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. . . .
So how about this business of "thinking the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice"? That phenomenon may be a big part of what's behind what many are seeing as a high current level of voter anger in this cycle.
My observation is that, at least in my lifetime, anger has been far more characteristic of the Democrat/progressive side than of the Republican/libertarian side. After all, if you think that all human problems (poverty, inequality, hunger, healthcare, bad weather, cancer, expensive college education, etc.) are easily solved with government spending, then it's a short logical leap to the conclusion that those who stand in the way of the obvious solutions are immoral and evil. And it's an even shorter leap from there to anger. How could these evil people be OK with seeing children starve?
Over on the Republican side, there have long been some (such as myself) who thought that the endless list of progressive spending programs accomplish nothing other than to make everyone a lot poorer while only worsening the problems they are supposedly intended to solve. But, at least until recently, few questioned the progressives' sincerity in advocating the spending. Thus, there was generally little serious anger. But suddenly, the existence of a high degree of anger on the Republican side is the theory most often advanced to explain the rise of Donald Trump, as well as to explain the morphing of the pitches of other candidates to tap into this perceived deep vein of animosity.
This anger may be about many things, one example being immigration. But near if not at the top of the list is the ongoing metastasizing growth of the oppressive and incompetent federal government. Note that anger from this particular source may be directed by the Republican base of voters as much or more toward their own "establishment" as toward Obama and the progressives. Without doubt, many Republican voters are frustrated by the continuing failure of their Congressional delegation to mount any kind of effective push back against the endless addition of more and yet more government programs to fix everything in your life. Republicans control both houses of Congress, they supposedly have the "power of the purse," and yet they can't manage to shrink the federal budget by even a dime, and can't manage to eliminate even one single agency or program. John Boehner's only real job was to push back against the growth of the government. We got rid of him for failing at that, and replaced him with Paul Ryan, who gives the appearance of being a much more principled small-government guy and not just a Washington deal-maker. And next thing you know we get a federal budget that is barely an improvement from what the previous regime would have delivered. They even re-authorized the Ex-Im Bank -- with plenty of Republican support! (I'm not meaning to be overly critical of Ryan, who was doing his best to play a mediocre hand. I'm just trying to explain the frustration, and thus the anger, of the Republican voter.)
But to return to Obama's call for bipartisanship and "compromise," the fundamental question remains, what is the "compromise" between those who want to grow the government and then grow it some more with infinite spending and a program for every human need and want, and those who think the government should be shrunk dramatically? Obama's idea is simple: we'll "compromise" and just grow the government a little more slowly than I would prefer. Instead of free junior college for all next year, we'll phase it in over a few years. Well, how about the compromise of, instead of shrinking the government by 50% (as I would like), instead we shrink it by 5% per year for the next ten years? Yes, this is not what Obama has in mind at all. His interest in real compromise is zero.