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Lakoff, Luna, Davis Comment On State Of The Union


San Diego Congressional Representatives Susan Davis and Brian Bilbray discuss their reactions to the president's State of the Union Speech last night The president told the nation that American ingenuity and enterprise can still lead the world, but only if we invest in the future.

President Barack Obama told the nation last night that American ingenuity and enterprise can still lead the world, but only if we invest in the future. The President also challenged the Congress to find areas of agreement and avoid partisan rancor. Of special note for listeners here in San Diego, the President encouraged more investment in alternative and green energy technologies, and he called for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

Meanwhile, applause for the State of the Union address was somewhat muted last night, most likely because many Democrats and Republican were seated next to each other instead of on opposite sides of the room.

Guests: Carl Luna, Mesa Community College

George Lakoff, professor of cognitive linguistics, UC Berkeley, PHONE 510-643-7616.

Susan Davis, congresswoman, 53rd District

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: President Obama challenges the nation in an ambitious state of the union address. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, the president outline a line for America to regain ascendancy in innovation and economic strength. But he also proposed budget cuts and freezes. We'll get reaction from members of our own congressional delegation, along with some academic analysis of the state of the union address. And then tonight the Aztec baseball game is so big, it hurts to think about it. We'll talk about the match up against BYU. That's all ahead this our on These Days. First the news. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS.

President Barack Obama told the nation last night that American ingenuity and enterprise can still lead the world, but only if we invest in the future. Obama also challenged the Congress to find areas of agreement and avoid partisan rancor. A special note for here in San Diego, are the president encouraged more investment in alternative and green energy technology. And he called for I comprehensive reapproach to immigration reform. Meanwhile applause for the state of the union address was somewhat muted last night, most likely because many Democrats and Republicans were seated next to each other, instead of on opposite sides of the room. We'll be talking about the state of the union address with my guests, Carl Luna, chair of the accelerated college program at Mesa Community College. And Carl, good morning.

LUNA: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: George Lakoff is professor of cognitive linguistics at UC Berkeley. Good morning, George.

LAKOFF: Pleasure to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Later this hour, we'll hear from two members of San Diego's congressional delegation, Susan Davis and Brian Bilbray. Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. What did you think of the president's State of the Union address? Do you agree with his plan to move the country forward? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Carl, what did you think of the State of the Union as a political speech.

LUNA: As a political speech, it colored what the president needed to. It sounded a bipartisan tone while advancing a partisan agenda, set up the campaign slogan for 2011, we're gonna win the future. And the future he wants is another four years in office, and was generally well received by the public.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what about this emphasis on competitiveness and education? Do you think that was a good move politically.

LUNA: Oh, he had a very positive tone. He talked about how American can compete. The people who are writing America off in the face of rising China and India are premature, as best. America can always do big things, as he said, he got good applause on that. He laid out some practical approaches on putting money into the economy, into research and development, and big stuff we're good at doing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, you say that this lays out sort of his a campaign theme. Do we see the president following this theme for the next two years.

LUNA: Oh, I think it's -- it's looking like it's playing well already after the State of the Union, you get a good brand name going, you're gonna run on that. And that leaves the opposition running against the future? America's always about the future.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Carl -- I'm sorry, George Lakoff, what sorry the presidents's main job in delivering a State of the Union speech? Linguistically, what is the kind of message by the words he uses and the tone of his voice that he wants to convey?

LAKOFF: Well, this was a very, very interesting speech because it worked in many dimensions. Many of them hidden. First he wanted to show he was in charge. And I think he did that. But also, this was a speech meant to split off the business community of the country from the hard right, from the tea partiers, and the people who want the country just to go conservative, who are not really interested in deficits in general, who are not really interested in just downsizing the government in general. These are people who want the country to be conservative in every respect, and he's trying to point out that the business of America is business. That most Americans, Democrats and Republicans, are in business, and that business people have to be practical and they have to be serious, and they can't ride on I'd logical economics. So he's trying to split that off in terms of ending Republican domination of the business community. And I think that that is a very good move. But there's a stronger thing that's involved here. Part of what's scary about this, and I think it should be scary, it's a kind of a declaration that we're in world war three, and it is a commercial war. It is a war about money. And that America now is going to be, quote, competing, not working with other countries in the world to make just the world a better place, but, you know, in an economic war and that we have to mobilize. That's kind of the message being hidden behind this. And it wasn't overt, but it's pretty clear that it comes across subconsciously, that is, you know, we have to pull together because we are in a competition. And a competition in terms of a metaphor works like this. There are several forms of competition, competition can be a war or a fight, it can be a race, it can be a competitive sport, a game, it can be predation, one, you know, dog eat dog.


LAKOFF: But under any of those metaphors, under any of those metaphor, this is not eye cooperative world, and that's very different from the view he had when he took office.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. That's interesting. I want to get our listeners into the conversation. Taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. JD is calling from SDSU, good morning, JD, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, thank you. Of this is the first time I called. I'm a new student at the university here.


NEW SPEAKER: And it's a pleasure to hear your show in the morning.


NEW SPEAKER: I just want to say that I saw the address last night, and it did come across as trying to convey a message that we need to unify, we need to get away from the bipartisan mentality in our country. And I think that the lack of consensus on several significant issues is really impacting us as a society. Of it divides us accident.


NEW SPEAKER: And it probably is the worst thing that we can do for our generation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call, JD, I appreciate it. And that emphasis on bipartisanship was not only in the president's speech, but as I said in the opening, it was in the seating arrangements last night in Congress, and many spectators thought that the applause and the pep rally kind of atmosphere that has surrounded the state of the union address in the recent past was not there last night. And Carl, they speculate because of that seating, because the opposite sides were not sitting on different sides of the room but they were all mingled in together. Do you agree with that?

LUNA: Yes, to a degree. I mean, the shadow of Tucson lay over the entire event last night. The president began with that, are the members of congress were wearing ribbons to that effect. And I think there was a deliberate effort not to make it just a regular raucous political event, where, like uncue all the democrats stay in the democrat set and all the republicans stay in the republican set, and in some way, that actually helped by diminishing those partisan applause, it came across as an uplifting and sobering speech, that this is serious times and allowed the president's message to get through even better to the public.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carl, who is the president speaking to during a state of the union? Is he speaking to his supporters? Is he speaking to the people who want to be impressed with him or is he speaking to the middle of the country.

LUNA: Well, he's speaking to all of them. And that's why as was just said, that there's so many various layers of text to this. He was trying to speak to the moderate middle and say, look, I'm still here, I'm the leader, and I'm gonna take us to 2012, and we're gonna deal with serious issues. He was firing a warning shot across the bough of republicans, you had your fun trying to repeal healthcare, now let's get serious, and if you don't, the public's gonna blame you. He was also reaching out to special interests, I thought one of the most interesting things he talked about was reorganizing government for the first time in 25 years of that's a message to K street, the lobbyists, you're gonna have to spend the next two years worrying about protecting your own turf, distract them and while they're chasing that bone, he'll be able to advance his other agenda on research and development. So he was shooting at a variety of different targets, and I think he hit a number of them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And George Lakoff, the response, the Republican response was given by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Some of his opinions aren't mainstream, and some really -- some of them are opposed by Republicans themselves, like raising the retirement age and making Medicare a private insurance plan. What did you think of his rebuttal speech last night?

LAKOFF: Well, Ryan represents the part of the Republican party that is it extreme and that wants to of everything run by conservative morality. The idea that everybody's on their own, that it's all a matter of individual responsibility, not social responsibility, and nobody should be paying for anybody else and so on. And what was interesting about that in a number of ways was that Social Security, of course, is solvent. It has two and a half trillion dollars in excess. And nobody said that last night, but that is a fact. And you know, that's a very important fact. Medicare is the most efficient way to deliver healthcare, by far. You know, that wasn't said last night. So this isn't a matter of getting rid of deficits or anything like this. This is a matter of privatizing all social services in the country for Ryan and others. But it's not just about deficits and it's not about budgets and it's not about spending. Of the in other words, he said there's no investment that's all just spending. Spending is an attempt to say we want to get rid of all nonconservative ways of thinking and functioning in the country.


LAKOFF: That's what this is about, it's not about spending and deficits and so on. And Republicans have spent plenty more. There's no attempt to cut the military budget in any serious way. We have a hundred and 74 bases around the world. Nobody came out and said can we get by with 50? That is a very important thing to realize. This is not about what it seems.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you think, Carl, Paul Ryan's response was ideological in that sense.

LUNA: Well, Paul Ryan was looking at major cuts to the bottom, but as the president was pointing out, it's kind of hard to balance a 40 percent budget deficit when you're looking at a 20 percent discretionary portion of the building. Ryan was much more libertarian in his approach, government should get back to the basics, he was saying. I agree with George's earlier point, part of the speech was to try to move the business community away from the Republican right. Because the business community is not libertarian. It likes government support, it likes government intervention. It's much more libertine, if you will, when it comes to government spending.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. Ca-Sandra's on the line, from San Diego. Good morning, Cassandra, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you for having me on the show. Something I'd like to mention was actually -- isn't quite on par with what's been discussed so far, but something I wanted to say is I thought it was a shame that the president didn't highlight some of the administration's accomplishments over the last three years, given the things that have been done. He talked a lot about the future, where we could go as far as that goes, but he department highlight some of his accomplishments. And I feel like that's really imperative given a lot of people out there that are nay sayers and don't support him and think he's not getting the things done that he said he was. And I just thought that was a shame.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Cassandra. Am and I've heard that, some people feel the president didn't tout his accomplishments enough. Did you feel that was lacking in the speech?

LUNA: For all the discussion of government not getting much done, his administration in two years has got a huge record of legislative achievement, much more than even the Clinton administration. That being said, I don't think he saw that as the purpose of his speech. That'll be a later campaign speech, that'll be later efforts. But if he has to fall back into fighting the past battles, he can't really move forward. SO I think that's really what it's about. He wants to capture the future. It's almost like the X-Files movie, Fight the Future. He's fighting for the future, which is to advance a new agenda for 2012.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: George Lakoff, I'm gonna ask you to give us just a short idea of your response to Michelle Bockman's second Republican response to the president's State of the Union address. What did you think her tea party response was like?

LAKOFF: Well, it was exactly the idea of the hard right. Namely, we want everything to be conservative. Period. This is, you know, a total conservatism. And that's being wrapped in issues of personal liberty, of bankrupting the country, and so on. But it has a conservative world view. One of the interesting things about this that hasn't been said is there is no ideology of the middle. There is no moderate ideology. What you have for moderates, so called moderates, are people who are biconceptual. People who are conservative in some issues, progressive on other issues in all kinds of combinations. These are a large part of the electorate, probably 15 to 20 percent, and they can swing a lot. And I think the president was addressing them to a large extent. That is, he has to win over the biconceptuals, the people who went from him to the Republicans in the last election. I think a lot of the speech was about that. But I think the speech was about something deeper. The market is a self organizing system with constraints.


LAKOFF: And the question is, what are those constraints going to be? I think Obama has finally realized that the market is not going to give jobs. Of that we're -- the companies in the country have made two trillion doctors that they're sitting on since the economic collapse, and they're not hiring people because they don't have to. They can make that money without hiring people. And the question is, that is unprecedented. How do you deal with that in this situation? I think what he's trying to do is loosen that up, change that, and say, look, we are in this major economic war now, and we have to be able to create jobs, we have to be able to build things, we have to be able to exhort. And you had better start investing in this country.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: George Lakoff, thank you so much, Carl Luna, we had two little time speaking with you, but we want to get two of the members of our congressional delegation on with us to talk about the president's State of the Union address. Thank you so much.

LUNA: My pleasure.

LAKOFF: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And stay with us, we're going to be speaking with Susan Davis and Brian bill ray from San Diego's congressional districts when we return. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and You're listening to These Days on KPBS on KPBS.


And we continue, now, with our discussion with president Obama's State of the Union address last night. And I welcome congresswoman Susan Davis, she's of course a Democrat representing the 53rd district here in San Diego. Congresswoman Davis, good morning.

DAVIS: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we heard that the -- all the emphasis on collegiality, Republicans and Democrats sitting together last night. Did you find the atmosphere any different this year?

DAVIS: It was different, actually. I think that the -- the pretime that everybody had, you know, people were kind of walking around a little differently, and you know, this was a defense. I think everybody acknowledges that that doesn't change much. There are some real policy defenses between us. But the reality is that we do work together. And I was sitting with Joe Wilson, he's my counterpart on the armed services committee. He was very supportive of me as I led the personnel committee last term, and I will certainly be supportive of his interests, but I'm certainly gonna be very strong about what I feel the committee needs to look at this year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Joe Wilson of the famous You lied" out burst in the state of the union last year.

DAVIS: There was a lot of kidding about that, that he's gonna have to sit on this. But the reality is, he certainly behaved properly. But I think on a personal level, people do talk and they do try and work together. But we do approach the world and certainly where we believe our nation should go and can go differently. And that was very, very clear, I think. In the president's message, which was a very hopeful one but challenging the American people, calling on them and they're ingenuity, I think, to help us move forward. And on the other hand we had a speech that was really talking about how we need to cut. And I think we all want to be sure that this country does not run large deficits. There's no question about that. But I think the president tried to present a balance that there are areas in which we do need to grow if we want to innovate, if we want to be sure that we're looking towards the future.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congresswoman Davis, in the light of the shooting of representative Gifford, did you hope that the Perez debt might say something about gun control?

DAVIS: Well, I don't know. I was very pleased that, of course, he did acknowledge it and recognize how we were all feeling about what happened to the congresswoman. And certainly the lives of those and the deaths that were -- you know, what happened in Tucson.


DAVIS: Guns play a very important part of that. And I would hope down the line that perhaps he weighs in on that issue, and certainly the issue of how many -- how large a clip a person needs to defend themselves. That's an important issue that I know one of my colleagues is gonna be following up on, and I think that we all would have an interest in that. But I think there was a sober feeling of course to the state of the union, and I continue to wear the ribbon to be supportive of people in Tucson and certainly to remind all of us of what our colleague is going through today, and we certainly wish her the best as she begins her rehabilitation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congresswoman Susan Davis, there was an ambitious speech that the president made last night in the State of the Union, spoke about a lot of initiatives, a lot of projects but one thing that stood out, perhaps, for some Democrats of the fact that he proposed to freeze domestic spending. We're already into a second year with no Social Security increase. Do you think things like that kind of a freeze will go over well with your constituents?

DAVIS: Well, it's a mixed bag. And I think what we needed were more details about that. Because when bee speak about freezing domestic spending that means that there may still be some areas that are not frozen. I think what he was not calling for was across the board. I think it was much more subtle in terms of the fact that if you're gonna grow in some areas, you're gonna have to cut back in other things. And so I think that we need to grapple with that. I think there are areas in which we really have not let people down by freezing those dollars when we know that there's been growth in the need, substantial growth in that need. So I think this is gonna be mixed, and we need to really look at the details better.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the Republican response, congresswoman? Did Paul Ryan offer any ideas you think are reasonable that you might be willing to work on?

DAVIS: I think the intent is a good one. But I do think that we are aware of some of the ideas that have been floating out there, that certainly the Congressman has put forward. He's been very public about that. And some of those ideas, I think, create some problems. Because they basically privatize systems that we have come to believe that the government is actually able to handle quite well, including Social Security. There's more detail to come in the proposals that they put forward. But I think there are ways that we can work together and we all want to -- you know, our national security depends on the fact that the country is able to grow and prosper and that the middle class can prosper. So we need to take a look at all of those issues and not, you know, be so quick to judge, but on the other hand to acknowledge that some of the things are not as simple, perhaps, as some people would suggest.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with congresswoman -- excuse me, congresswoman Susan Davis, she represents the 53rd district here in San Diego. We are asking you to participate, our listeners, at 1-888-895-5727, if you have some questions about president Obama's State of the Union speech last night. Give us a call, tell us what you thought. And I'm wondering, congresswoman, what was the buzz about the speech last night.

DAVIS: I think there was a feeling that it was part pep talk and part policy. That there was a call to people's better selves in the speech, and I thought that was important. I keep wondering when we're not going to look back and talk about a sputnik moment for this country, because clearly in education, we need to fit so differently about our competitiveness in the world. And I think that he certainly hit on those issues very clearly. And that's something that I personally was very, very happy to hear. I think there was some concern that he might not have had as many -- not necessarily ideas, but substantive points that would back up some of the things that he had to say. And I think that's probably a legitimate critique.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with congresswoman Susan Davis, I've just been informed that Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray will not be able to join us this morning, so I wonder, congresswoman Davis, can you spend a little more time with us?

DAVIS: Sure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Terrific. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Gale is on the line from Tecate, good morning, gale, welcome to These Days. Gale, you are with us?

NEW SPEAKER: The program. I thought a very pertinent speech was quite brilliant. I feel that he's got such an uphill struggle with this country. This man is trying to drag America into the 21st century. And everybody, or almost everybody, is kicking and screaming and saying no, I want to stay exactly as we are. For some reason they haven't been able to figure out in the 30 years I've lived here, Americans are very, very resistant to change. And we have to realize that as Susan Davis just said, America has to move forward. We are behind other countries. I mean, a country like Finland has a better educational system this than we have here. Of medicine is behind, even though most Americans think it's leading. We're not. We're misinformed about a lot of these things. Our energy, our Internet access, our transportation. We're way behind other countries, other western or more civilized, if you might think of it that way.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gale, thank you so much. I appreciate the phone call. I'm wondering, I was listening to the speech last night, congresswoman Davis, and I was thinking -- I was trying to figure out if I could see another president giving that speech, that sort of a clarion call, if you will, to America to sort of recognize the fact that if we do not newscast in various aspects of our economy and our society, that we might be slipping from first place. Can you see another president giving that message?

DAVIS: Perhaps at a different time. But I think we really aren't hearing that across the board. And that is a concern. And I think the caller is right. We actually have slipped quite far behind in a number of areas. And yet, we are still the economic power of the world, and I think that we have the capacity here to win the future, as the president has said. There's no question with that. But we do tend to be a little frightened, I think, to ask people to come to the plate, and to be able to do what we think they can do. That's an issue that some people would suggest that he didn't even address enough, that he didn't ask for the kind of, perhaps, sacrifices that we may need to look at in the future. And I think what he's trying to say, is listen, let's address these issues now, let's do the investing, yes, of course, we're going to be as efficient as we can, and we're going to look at where we can provide some better tax codes so people can respond to those issues better. But we've got to do this investing. And somehow I think, unfortunately, people are starting to see investment as a bad word. And I don't think that's true. I think the president was trying to put out there how important that is. And we know in San Diego from all the work that's been done here, we have led the world in a number of areas. And I think that the San Diego communities very badly to continue to see the kinds of investments that create better lives for better of that's our purpose. You know? We have to think about what is it that we really want for this country? And I think that the president was able to put forth a message of kind of the balancing act that we have here. And we know that that's true. And not everybody is going to be happy with one approach or the other. But we've got to work this through and work it together. And I think that last night was a really good start for that. I don't think that the seating arrangements in and of itself do that, but the tone and the mood on the floor was actually good. And I hope that that's gonna be a good Omen for the future.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I just want to ask you, speaking about investments, and that really sort of caught my ear last night too. That proposed investment in alternative energies, new technologies, do you think some of that will help San Diego?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Absolutely will help San Diego. Of it already has. We already see that there are a number of savings that even our universities have been able to and benefit from. And even the military in San Diego has been on the cutting edge of a lot of that change. So I think we can have a community that is self sustaining for the future, if we -- if we provide the right incentives for people. Unfortunately, are the state, as we know, is facing large deficits also, and so they have had to cut back in ways. But we have to focus on the education piece, because if we don't do that, then in the future, the kind of jobs that we would hope our young people would be taking, they won't be prepared for. And even today, we see that there's a gap in many cases from what -- where people -- what skills they have, what they're able to contribute to the work force and realistically the kind of education that they have. So I think that was an important thing too. We've got to make certain that while we're looking to some efficiencies and looking to programs that haven't worked in the past, we do have to focus on the future and a lot of that is in education.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I just want to sneak in this final call. Michael is calling from Pacific Beach, good morning, Michael, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, how are you doing today?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just fine thanks.

NEW SPEAKER: I just want to say that I campaigned for Obama in 2008, and I am so proud of Obama. Even after the 2010 reaction when the tea party took so many seats, he stood above the fray. And he didn't even mention that the tea party created an atmosphere of conflict and fear that got a democratic congresswoman shot of that's all I had to say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Had, thank you for that, Michael, and I'm just wondering, do you think congresswoman Davis that president Obama is becoming a figure that sort of transcends partisan politics to an extent?

DAVIS: I don't know if I can necessarily say today that that's -- he's necessarily that figure. But I think he absolutely has the potential to do that. And I think the last few opportunities that he's taken to do that, I think is changing a lot of people's feelings. And having a level of confidence and I think they talked about it being a modern speech and a comfort level where the president, I think, was really engaging in a conversation with the American people. And I think that's very important. People need to have the confidence that he's not just on top of the issues but that he's looking to a great purpose. That this country has always enjoyed and can continue to have for the future.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Finally, what's it like not to be in the majority in Congress? Are you settling in?

DAVIS: Yes, I certainly am settling in. And I think that I will continue to work as hard as I have on the issues that are important to me. And I think the San Diego community. And I think we will just find ways to do that. I think there are gonna be some disappointments, though. Because this early approach that my colleagues on the other side of the isle are taking I think is not collaborative and it's not transparent. But I think we're gonna continue to try and work with them and do what we can for the country.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. I really appreciate it.

DAVIS: Thank you. Thank, Maureen. Bye-bye.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was congresswoman Susan Davis. She's a Democrat representing the 53rd district in San Diego. And we were hoping to get Brian Bilbray, of course Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray on the line with us, he was not able to make it today. I'm sure we will hear from him on later programs. If you would like to comment, please go on-line, Days. Coming up, a preview of tonight's big game between the Aztecs and BYU. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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