President Obama got two big laughs in his State of the Union speech this week.
One came as the result of his description of the federal bureaucracy through the eyes of a salmon. He described how different departments have oversight responsibility for salmon in different conditions, specifically stating, “the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”
No doubt that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacoo and Firearms gets that last one, right? Have you ever tried to smoke a salmon? Very hard to stuff it in a pipe.
Obama’s second laugh, albeit short-lived, was when he said he had heard “rumors” that some in the roomful of Congresspeople had “concerns” about the his healthcare reform law. Nothing like extreme understatement to make a point. Saying that these guys have “concerns” about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is like saying Sarah Palin occasionally welcomes publicity.
Obama didn’t speak long about health reform, but he made his message clear: happy to refine it, willing to throw a bone or two to the red-state guys, might even be willing to aggravate some blue-state guys, but repeal? Don’t even go there, girlfriend. Obama reminded detractors that repeal would mean taking away prized new benefits that few would readily surrender, even Republican constituents. To quote the ultimate politician, Yoda, Obama seemed to be cautioning his detractors with, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”
And you gotta hand it to the guy. At least the speech sounded like an attempt to engage in a bi-partisan discussion that starts from somewhere. While there are clearly problems with the PPACA, the Republicans have failed to offer up a comprehensive alternative in the debate. It is, in my view, a real tactical error, especially since several on their team have had some reasonable ideas on healthcare along the way. Their inability to rope together a comprehensive alternative and stand it up next to PPACA significantly weakens their bargaining position and makes them look like whiners. At the same time, the Democrats have served up a dish that many don’t want to eat (hot or cold), yet it’s been the only thing on the menu.
It seemed almost palpable, the look on so many of our elected officials faces as they struggled to decide whether to go with political rhetoric in the name of the party or political engagement in the name of the country’s best interests. Wouldn’t it be swell if they could all just get along? Collectively swim upstream in the same direction intent on a common goal, like so many unsmoked blue and red salmon? Queue ironic laugh. Salmon: the punch line for every occasion.