State of the Union, part 3: the reactions

Over the past two decades, academic political philosophers spent a lot of time thinking and talking about “deliberative (read: cooperative) democracy.” But can there be any doubt that our actual democracy is overwhelmingly adversarial or competitive and not cooperative? Consider this typical analysis of last night’s SOTU by The New Republic‘s Ed Kilgore, under the headline: “Snore or Snare: the State of the Union set a cunning trap for Obama’s enemies.” This piece appears in a section of the on-line magazine called “Politics. The Permanent Campaign.”

The piece operates under the assumption that important political moments must always be partisan. So even when the message itself is explicitly cooperative, as Kilgore thinks it was, it must ultimately be a tactic in the contest. Here are some representative snatches from the piece.

Much of it could easily have been harvested from any number of interchangeable speeches given during the last 20 years—not just by presidents by members of Congress, governors, mayors, and CEOs—from both parties. Yet that may have been exactly the point. By staking his claim to decades of well-worn political detritus, I think Obama has set a cunning political trap for his enemies...

And that’s the beauty of Obama’s address. He basically put together every modest, centrist, reasonable-sounding idea for public investment aimed at job creation and economic growth that anyone has ever uttered…

Paul Ryan’s deficit-maniac response played right into Obama’s trap

Moreover, Obama’s tone—the constant invocation of bipartisanship at a time when Republicans are certain to oppose most of what he’s called for, while going after the progressive programs and policies of the past—should sound familiar as well…

By playing this rope-a-dope, Obama has positioned himself well to push back hard against the conservative agenda. …  Boring it may have been, but as a positioning device for the next two years, Obama’s speech was a masterpiece.

What better proof can we have that Obama’s speech was cunning and adversarial than that it sounded so perfectly non-partisan and cooperative!

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