Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Realistic Appraisal of the State of the Union Address

President Obama delivered a pretty good speech.
For much of this election year, my posts will be political.

This is my brief take on the State of the Union Address last night:

President Obama's speech was pretty good, but it had some strange confusions: Does he support fracking or not? How is he going to require states to graduate 100% of their high school students (and how realistic is that plan)? Does the creation of a new Justice Department team to go after those who sold faulty mortgages mean that all the feds' recent negotiations to reach a settlement with those malfeasant banks and mortgage lenders have been ended?

And finally, his central metaphor: Can an entire country ever really act like a SEAL team? And do we really want our democracy to act like a SEAL team? I myself don't think it should. In a good democracy, the members argue and wrestle with each other. They don't all follow the same agenda. They don't have a single "mission" to achieve. The President's analogy is fundamentally flawed.

Still, it was a very good speech.

What Obama did so well was to be positive and optimistic. Some of us have been saying for two years that he (and the Democrats in general) need to emphasize the positive: he's ended the recession, he's added 120,000 jobs a month (on average) for two straight years, he's lowered our dependence on foreign oil, he's increased domestic oil production, he's resurrected the U.S. auto industry, he's helped save the necessary-evil finance industry, he got us out of a stupid and unnecessary war in Iraq, he ended a homophobic military policy (with no ill results whatsoever), and he killed Bin Laden. In the speech, he could have added that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly doubled under his administration, re-energizing the retirement funds of millions of Americans and salvaging the pension funds of thousands of companies and unions. And he could have mentioned that American companies, having reaped huge earnings lately, now have more than a trillion dollars in unspent cash in their coffers—money that they could (and should) be spending to hire new workers.

This chart shows that since Obama's stimulus money entered the country's bloodstream in early 2010, the economy has added millions of jobs.

President Obama also has great oratorical powers: he can milk a pause and squeeze an inflection with the best of them.

This kind of positive, optimistic speech, by the way, is not only good politics, it's also good for the economy, because it makes consumers and businesses more confident in our future—more likely to spend and hire, respectively.

Many of my liberal friends, inspired by the speech, now think Obama will easily beat any of the Republican nominees. I don't think Obama's election is in the bag, however. The key isn't whom the Republicans nominate, it's in how the Democratic candidates for the House and Senate behave. If they get on the Obama bandwagon, support his policies, tout his record, emphasize the positives, and push the effectiveness of their own policies hard, they will win the White House, hold the Senate, and perhaps win back the House. But if they run away from Obama and his policies as they did in 2010—terrified of polls that said the health-care plan and stimulus were unpopular—then both the polls and the election will get away from them again, and they could lose the White House and both houses of Congress. If the economy stumbles, then none of this will matter: he'll lose.

Poor Mitch Daniels had no chance in his rebuttal.
As for the Republican rebuttal, initially I declared that Mitch Daniels' talk was pale and weak (and he certainly looks that way), but then I reconsidered and decided I was being unfair. No one giving the rebuttal—all by himself, in a quiet room, no applause, no chance really to orate, no chance to shake hands, kiss cheeks, or hug Gabby Giffords—can ever come across well compared to a President on a high and mighty (and mighty high) podium giving the State of the Union in front of Congress and the Supreme Court justices. Daniels won't be the Republicans' draft choice for President after this, but it's not his fault.

Another good result of the speech telecast: Eric Cantor, the most dangerous man in America, came across as looking like the cynical, rude, snide, smirky, snarky, and snarly hatchet man he is, at least in his public persona. (Who knows? Maybe he's nice to his family.)

I hope Eric Cantor is nicer in private than he is in public. I also hope he returns to the minority in the House in 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment