That Guy's A Good Speaker, He May Go Far
I hear that Barack Obama read old fireside chats by Franklin Roosevelt before shaping his joint address to Congress. It showed last night. He was completely realistic about the nature of the problem, even taking on the guise of an instructor of macroeconomics at one point to explain the role of banks. But he refused to cower in the face of this difficulty and exhorted his fellow men and women that we already have all the tools we need to return to prosperity and a brighter future. This point - that the solutions are all around us and just need to be properly directed - is an important one. He's using the familiar "we're Americans, we can move mountains" trope in service to a fairly liberal policy set. Robert Borosage is right on:
And his case was a clear and bold statement of the need for progressive government as the vital instrument to move us out of this crisis and into the future. The recovery plan to put people back to work. Banking reform and "new rules of the road" to get banks working once more. The mortgage initiative to help homeowners stay in their homes.
But more, the need for sustained public investment and leadership to move us into the future with new energy, reform of our broken health care system, and provision of a world class education from birth to a career for every child.
He vowed, sensibly, to bring the deficit down - once recovery begins - to half of its current levels by the end of his term. A return to growth will do most of that. And every other choice was a progressive one: savings from Cold War weapons and no bid military contracts, from billions provided insurance companies to compete with Medicare, from agribusiness (and unspecified education programs that don't work). And then progressive taxes - reversing the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, ending tax breaks for companies taking jobs abroad (and unmentioned in the speech, sustaining the estate tax and raising the capital gains tax). He also called for moving on cap and trade on carbon emissions - and his budget will project revenue from this effort, so he won't just let companies pocket the proceeds.
That was my favorite part of the speech as well. Conservatives like to point to "wasteful spending" and then they promptly identify a tiny sliver, things that actually create jobs and have long-term goals like scientific research. The real wasteful spending can be found in corporate welfare and the military-industrial complex. Here the bark may be worse than the bite, but now progressives have an opportunity to hold the President to his promises.
He made the case for an active and progressive government that, through history, has both moved us out of crisis and supplied the down payment for long-term prosperity. It's a hopeful vision, a realistic vision, and a vision that crowds out any counter-message other than "government doesn't work," the outdated message used by Bobby Jindal in his response.
There are certainly parts that need more explanation (universal savings accounts?), and parts that were somewhat vague (like what to do with the banks). But overall, I think the President has even more of a mandate to do what he deems necessary to fix the economy and invest in the future. Republicans can join him, or get out of the way.