Count it. It was a great speech. Was it epic? No. Will it be remembered forever? No. Will it be remembered in election season? Unlikely.
What makes me call it “great” is the fact that it measured, appropriate and honest. It was better than good and fell short of “a moment.” This President is an extremely practical president. This speech reflected that. This President is left on some issues, moderate on others and conservative on work ethic and responsibility. This speech reflected that. This President sees the government as both a tactical tool and long-term strategy solution without getting anywhere near socialism, communism or whatever other -ism is the critics’ flavor of the week. This speech reflected that.
President Obama made several outstanding points:
- Tax reforms can create jobs.
- “Teachers matter.”
- Some people need to be reminded to play by the rules. “A return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help us protect our people and our economy.”
- “…Washington is broken.” “Can you blame [most Americans] for feeling a little cynical?”
- “deficit of trust” between Wall St. and Main St. (thanks to my wife, M, her comment got this one on the list)
- Quoting Abraham Lincoln (like Sam Adams) is always a good decision.
- “…the State of our Union will always be strong.” (And shame on Mitch Daniels for calling it “grave” and Obama dishonest – all in the same breath).
President Obama made several less-than-outstanding points*:
*Please note that I feel more compelled to defend my criticisms. The other points seem to speak for themselves.
- “This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.” Really? I keep hearing this. (Probably from brillant economists and I’m just the village idiot on this one). Yet, this feels a bit like relying on the past and reverting to what worked 40 years ago instead of pushing forward to life after heavy industrialized manufacturing. He didn’t say lets start manufacturing sophisticated electronics, biotech components or tools, or medical solutions; he mentioned cars, roads and bridges. He did mention new energy solutions, so that counts. And don’t get me wrong, I want to see I-84 in Connecticut improved as much as anyone. But somehow this feels like bowing to the conventional wisdom of a previous generation.
- Let’s “take on” illegal immigration and write a bill that allows illegal aliens who are currently getting an education to “earn” their citizenship. Agreed. Sounds great. From my perspective, that was the extent of the proposal. It sounded great but did not go far enough in explaining a). what the President supports when it comes to immigration reform and b). what that legislation might look like. Granted, Congress writes the law. I get that. But I still felt like bold statements that are clearly supposed to be a message to DREAM Act supporters did not explain his rationale or strategy to the rest of us.
- “That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.” This one is a tough one for me. A bit of a pickle, you might say. Balancing the need for regulation with the free market approach to irresponsible actors has always been a conflict at the heart of our two-party system and cuts to the core of the need for a President and Congress who can work together. This balancing act between regulation and free market principles IS the basic balancing act we’ve been asking the American government to master since the founding of the Republic. I’m not expecting President Obama to solve it in one speech or even three years. But quotes like this make my ears perk up. Because, while yes, we need smart regulations to curb irresponsible, powerful private actors; we also need to let loses, bankruptcies and market corrections occur when those regulations fail or do not exist. In the last ten years or so, we’ve had neither smart regulations nor the guts to let the results of bad regulations play out (Republicans and Democrats alike, see W. for TARP1). So, I support President Obama’s themes around smart government and efficient regulation but I get wary when the President begins to act like we can predict where irresponsible behavior will strike next. There aren’t enough regulations in the world…
- “Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else— like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.” Rhetorically, I think this is an effective line. In reality, I do not think either party is being honest about the so-called 1%. Republican voters do not trust The Government to actually use the money from higher taxes effectively or to address anything other than pet projects. Democratic voters think that if only The Government had more revenue or all the tax revenues their supposed to have, then programs would operate effectively. Hogwash.
- The question is – do we want to add another tax bracket for earners above $379,000/year? If we do, add one and create a % higher than the current 35%. If we don’t, then we’ve got some serious cuts to make. The President is right about not being able to do both. But perhaps arguing about people who make between $250,000/year and $379,000/year isn’t the best way to frame the argument?
- Framing it as Billionaire vs. Secretary isn’t bad but it ignores some giant implications about the capital gains vs. income tax rates. (Perhaps he thinks Americans cannot handle that portion of the discussion yet?)
- “They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit. That’s an America built to last.” A sense of shared responsibility is how we’ll reduce our deficit? Also, isn’t “Built to Last” the trademark of Chevy trucks or something? Did America buy it in the last bailout? (Sorry, cheap joke. Perhaps a bit better than tonight’s joke about spilled milk. Though he did save it in the end.)
Two quick side notes of interest:
- “I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.” Those I was watching the speech with tonight and I decided that this means wind power on public land and the first client will be the US Navy? I think I got that right but if someone else heard differently please let The Pickle know.
- “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” M is becoming the voice of the people. Her comment was “I wonder how he’ll define ‘responsible’?” I agree. I also wondered if this was a good thing. Do we want a bunch of people refinancing? I guess so, but wasn’t really sure why.
As I said, I support many of the themes and perspectives that the President trumpeted tonight. Innovation. Authenticity. Good Ol’ Fashioned American gumption. Combined with efficiency, incentives and progress. Yes. Did I sense hope during tonight’s speech? Yes. But let’s not forget. This is a practical President giving a practical speech. It was just abstract enough to pull in the idealist dreamers out there and just realistic enough to make sense to open-minded, hard-working Americans. Was it a campaign speech? Not exactly. Was it a policy speech? Not exactly. Was it a timeless speech for the ages? Not really.
In the end, it may have been just what the country needed.