Obama 2.0

28 Jan

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On Tuesday, WBEN’s Dave Debo called me and asked what I thought Obama had to do during his SOTU speech yesterday.  I don’t think it made it to air because the Collins withdrawal took over the news cycle.  My take was that Obama had to reassure people that we were on the right track, reassert himself into the political process, and remind people that change and progress aren’t easy.  

Clearly the Massachusetts Senate results have people spooked – or cheered, depending on who they are.  While a 100,000 vote margin in an election in which almost 4 million people cast votes isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be, it is significant in the Senate.

In recent history, Presidents have followed a cliched pattern when delivering state of the union addresses.  They recite the prior year’s successes, gloss over the defeats, and set forth a legislative agenda for the year to come.  Obama did that to a certain degree, but he is in a rather unique position.

While the Democrats have majorities in both the House and Senate, not all Democratic Senators are there to help push Obama’s agenda.  The Republican opposition has made the tactical decision to basically act like Obama isn’t president.  They will filibuster everything, give an inch on nothing.  Obama can scold them all he wants about how that is not the hallmark of a functioning democracy, and how saying “no” to everything is not leadership, but they don’t care.

That’s why they remained seated even when Obama called for such typically Republican platform planks as tax cuts, capital gains tax cuts for business, incentives for entrepreneurship, the notion that TARP recipients should pay the money back, and innovation in green energy.  The only items that I saw them cheer for were calls to drill for more oil, (because God forbid we invest in technologies that will move us away from fossil fuels), and nuclear power.

But much as Bush liked to portray himself as a “war president”, Obama is not just that, but also a president who has to preside over an economy obliterated by what he called the “lost decade” where savings, home values, incomes, and investments all stayed the same or went down.

Obama inherited a late 2008 descent into economic depression.  With the help of TARP and a watered-down stimulus which included the largest tax cuts in American history, we avoided depression and instead are trying to dig out of a very deep recession.

Many were predicting that Obama would strike a more populist tone last night, but I didn’t really hear it.  He certainly glossed over health insurance reform, giving it almost no time, but thankfully exhorted Democrats not to run in retreat.  Yes, he wants a jobs bill.  Yes, he wants more investment in smaller businesses and extension of credit to those businesses.  Yes, he would take the $30 billion from TARP repayments and use them to invest in, and stimulate small business.  But he did acknowledge the fact that people have somewhat short memories about the deficit and spending:

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.

When he called for changes to the student loan system, Obama said that, “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college”.  Democrats cheered.  Republicans sat silently.  Republicans want people to go broke?  WTF?

When he called for deficit reduction, he brought up not only the gimmicky spending freeze on discretionary spending (for which Republicans remained seated and silent), but also made the case for health insurance reform by stating that healthcare is a big chunk of that deficit in future years.  He pleaded with Congress that we must stop shunting costs to future generations.

I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this — I never suggested that change would be easy or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

As he delivered that line, he was looking right at the Republican side of the aisle.  They remained seated.

Because Obama needs to cut the bipartisan thing.  I think his gentle scolding of the Republicans on the filibuster issue, and telling them that just saying “no” to everything is not leadership sets him up to be the grownup in the room, but in the end the Republican platform is to (a) oppose Obama; (b) despise Obama; and (c) betray their core beliefs and policy positions in aid of (a) and (b).

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is election day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent — a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can’t wait.

While the policy proposals were sort of all over the map, mixing liberal agenda items with traditionally conservative ones, as well, none of this will matter when it comes to congress.  If the past year has revealed anything, it’s that congress and the legislative process in Washington is pretty dysfunctional.  Special interests and petty political concerns tend to trump any discussion of whether policy being debated is good for the country.

As a special aside, during a recitation of changes he’d propose to make government more responsible and accountable, he criticized the recent Citizens United SCOTUS decision, predicting that it would open the floodgates for special interests to assert themselves in the political process in a more wide-reaching and insidious way, with unlimited money being used even by foreign corporate entities.  Rarely has a President taken on the Court in such an address.  Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice, in this case Alito, reacted by shaking his head and mouthing, “it’s not true”.

I think the speech’s tone was good, the proposals were good, and I think he managed to reassure people that his agenda will help them, reassert himself as a leader, and remind everyone of what he’s trying to do. Clearly, in 2010, jobs will be the main focus – not health care.

Obama missed the opportunity to explain how the two might be inextricably linked.

Let’s see how year two goes.

32 Responses to “Obama 2.0”

  1. Pete@BS January 28, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    A quick plug for WNYMedia……. I have never watched a SOTU address, or anything else, for that matter with the liveblog/chat. It was a cool way to experience the speech and see running commentary along the way. I know I’ll be back next year, and hope others join the chat.

    Overall, I liked the tone of his speech. I am one of those guys that voted for the change, and for the bipartisanship Obama promised. He hasn’t kept all of his promises, or in some cases even tried. I am more disappointed with the Dems in the Senate (see: Ben Nelson) and in the House (see; Nancy Pelosi) than I am with Obama. Hopefully as he gets more comfortable he will be able to play this game better.

    I liked the humor in the speech, because in many cases what is going on is laughable. I liked the scolding of Dems, Republicans AND of the Supreme Court, and I would really like to understand which part Justice Alito asserts is not true.

    At the end of the day, it is just a speech and that is certainly where Obama is on his game, so we’ll see if anything comes of it.

    Wouldn’t you just like to sit in on those meetings he has with the GOP leadership?

  2. RvrSide January 28, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    Taking over the student loan industry is akin to taking over healthcare industry – it does nothing to make costs lower. It is rather an atempt to sieze power, create more buracracy (and votes) etc.

  3. Brian Castner January 28, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I mostly agree, but one note. Most libs, Dems, and even you occassionally, equate disgreeing with the solution and not acknowledging the problem. Just because Republicans don’t clap when they are being called out, or clap at a proposal in Obama’s frame, doesn’t mean they don’t agree with the problem. Or wish college students would go broke, for instance.

    The 2009 Republican Senate did not invesnt the fillibuster. I have heard political commentators for 20 years say it takes 60 votes to do anything in the Senate. Obama’s problems are more with his own party, than the opposition. I think it was George Will who said recently that having 59 votes might free the Dems. When you have 60, every Senator thinks they are indispensible, and able to extract bribes (NE). Why you would expect the oppostion party to help Obama’s agenda, when his own party is failing him, is flabbergasting.

    • Alan Bedenko January 28, 2010 at 9:11 am #

      From here:

      but filibusters didn’t really come into use until Southern senators began using the maneuver to attempt to block civil rights legislation of the 1950s and ’60s. They only became routine in the past few years, as the minority party in the Senate — the Democrats until 2006, and the Republicans since — sought to block legislation that had majority support but not the backing of a supermajority. In the 2007-08 session of Congress, Republicans forced 112 cloture votes, nearly doubling the Democrats’ record when they were in the minority.

      Simply put, that number means that the Senate now runs by minority rule. A more corrosive attack on the first principle of democracy, that of majority rule, is hard to conceive. The increasingly routine use of the filibuster stymies the efficacy of government (in itself a conservative objective) and negates the consequences of elections.

      • Brian Castner January 28, 2010 at 9:21 am #

        I don’t want to get all high school government here, but cloture votes are different than fillibusters. R’s got in a bad habit in the 2000’s of allowing the Dem threat of the fillibuster to substitute for the real thing. If Dems really want to pound something through, make the R’s read the phone book for 90 straight hours. I bet they don’t last 4.

      • STEEL January 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

        I agree with Brian. Why not let them filibuster. While they are doing that the Dems can be all over the place telling how this or that person went bankrupt because they got cancer. They be on news shows showing how the Swiss system cost less than half our system but gets better results and covers EVERYONE. The TV coverage will then show the Reps droning on about nothing in chamber.

        Remember when Clinton refused to sign the Reps spending bill even when the government was on the verge of shutting down? The Republicans came out as stinky obstructionists. Bill looked like the good guy trying to pare the deficit.

        The only reason the Dems need 60 votes is because they are scared of filibuster. Why? Let the filibuster play out then you don’t need some of the crap put in the bill for waffling Dems.

  4. Mark January 28, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    I wanted Obama to demand socialized medicine, announce an immediate pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan, and call the Republicans a bunch of fascist traitors. But since I knew he wasn’t going to do any of those things, I’d say the speech was better than I expected. I expected a long list of Republican talking points, but he said we still needed HCR and explained why, and he did more or less call the Republicans a bunch of corrupt incompetents.

    The “spending” “freeze,” and the nuclear power, are stupid ideas. Otherwise the whole thing was much less aggravating than I thought it would be.

  5. Merr January 28, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    “While a 100,000 vote margin in an election in which almost 4 million people cast votes isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be” That’s right. A Republican winning Teddy Kennedy’s seat in the bluest of blue states, where registered Dems outnumber Repubs 3 to 1, is not big deal…

    • Alan Bedenko January 28, 2010 at 9:13 am #

      Did Massachusetts have Republican governors non-stop from 1991 – 2007? Yes, I think it did. Spare me.

      • Merr January 28, 2010 at 10:39 am #

        When was the last R to be elected to the Senate from Mass? 1972
        How many of the 10 current Mass representatives in the House are Republicans? Zero
        When was the last time an R held a House seat from Massachusetts? 1997
        What percentage of the Massachusetts vote did Obama win in 2008? 62%
        What percentage of the Mass House of Reps is Republican? 10%
        What percentage of the Mass Senate is Republican? 13%
        No, BP, spare me.

      • Alan Bedenko January 28, 2010 at 11:07 am #

        Oh, so the fact that Massachusetts has had Republican governors elected in statewide elections from 1990 until 2003 is an irrelevance and might not at all show that Mass isn’t quite as blue as it once was.

        Instead, you’ll trot out the fact that Kerry and Kennedy are/were easily elected to the Senate, and that Republicans do poorly in smaller congressional and state legislature districts.

        Wow. You really got me there.

      • Merr January 28, 2010 at 11:46 am #

        How many statewide positions do Republicans currently hold? Zero
        The Secretary of the Commonwealth hasn’t been an R since 1949. The Treasurer and Receiver-General hasn’t been an R since 1999. The Attorney General hasn’t been an R since 1969. The Auditor hasn’t been an R since 1931. Yep, it looks like the Republicans have a winning track record in statewide races. Wow, you really got me there.

      • Alan Bedenko January 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

        Ah yes, I forgot about those statewide offices. You omitted dog catcher. The governor thing is obviously totally irrelevant because *gasp* the secretary of the commonwealth has always been a Dem!

      • STEEL January 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

        Funny thing in Mass. There nearly universal health care system there, the one that the national bill is modeled on, was signed into law by a Republican governor.

    • STEEL January 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

      Would he have beaten Kennedy? NOPE. And Kennedy wanted an even more liberal bill so I really don’t think this is a referendum on health care

      • Merr January 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

        I doubt he would have beaten Kennedy. I never said he would have. I’m just commenting that the fact that Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts is a huge deal.
        Oh, another fact: since 1928, Massachusetts has voted for the Democrat nominee for president in every election except 4 (Eisenhower and Reagan twice each). Is there really an argument that it isn’t a very blue state?

      • STEEL January 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

        The “Big Deal” inference is that the country is against the President’s policies especially on health care which you just admitted is not the case. It is not a big deal if it is about individual personalities which you have also just admitted.

      • Merr January 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

        So, we agree that Massachusetts is very left leaning. So much so that it would elect a Senator (Teddy) who is one of the most liberal ever. So much so that it would reliably vote Democrat in almost every election, be it statewide or local, federal or state (other than governor in recent years). And it still elected a senator who is completely on the other side of many issues than they are as a state (and by electing him would ruin the veto-proof senate which would help ensure that the liberal policies that they believe in get passed), but that’s not a big deal? I’m not sure I ever mentioned healthcare anywhere above. I’m just calling into question the denial that BP must be living in if he doesn’t believe that Scott Brown’s victory was a big deal.

      • STEEL January 28, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

        Actually I never said that Mass was hell bent Lllibrrrl. So no its is not a big deal as the right is presenting it. This does not signify some great shift to the right by the country as it is being played by the Fox set

      • Alan Bedenko January 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

        Here’s what @Merr said:

        I’m just calling into question the denial that BP must be living in if he doesn’t believe that Scott Brown’s victory was a big deal.

        In response to this:

        Clearly the Massachusetts Senate results have people spooked – or cheered, depending on who they are. While a 100,000 vote margin in an election in which almost 4 million people cast votes isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be, it is significant in the Senate.

        And I stand by that. First of all, Martha Coakley was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. This helped Brown win. Secondly, that election wasn’t a referendum on Obama, but a referendum on who gets to take the Senate seat that Kennedy once held. That’s it. Thirdly, I didn’t say it wasn’t a “big deal”. To the contrary, I said it wasn’t _as big_ of a deal as people are making it out to be – not from a macro political perspective, but I then in the next sentence acknowledged that for the purposes of the senate, it was a big deal.

        So, frankly, I don’t even know what the fuck you’re complaining about. But maybe you can tell me how many Republican mayors of Franklin or Lunenburg there have been in the past 100 years, and that’ll really show me, by gum!

  6. Mike In WNY January 28, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    reassure people that we were on the right track, reassert himself into the political process, and remind people that change and progress aren’t easy.

    Obama needs to lie, lie and more lies.

    a 100,000 vote margin in an election in which almost 4 million people cast votes isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be

    A 100,000 vote margin in a liberal state with Democrats enjoying a 3 to 1 enrollment advantage is very significant.
    Shorter Obama, we need to redouble our efforts using the same market interventions that have caused our economic woes. This time we’ll get it right.

  7. joe schmidbauer January 28, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    This State of the Union could have been given by George W., Clinton or George Senior, same old same old Chicago School Neo -Liberal economic policies. Same bullshit foreign policies-Terror- terror and more terror, Look out the pant bombers are coming to get you. More money for the domestic security state and the military industrial-complex and freeze domestic spending in the face of a depression, sorry repression, (let them eat cake).

    Change what change, except brother can a spare a buck- If it ain’t clear by now our “democratic system” is well beyond broken repair- welcome to the corporatist state (fascism). Oh! sorry unregulated free-market state filled with banks to big to fail and mufti-nations corporates. (cash and carry politics, money buys and we sell the lies)

  8. Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    Taking over the student loan industry is akin to taking over healthcare industry – it does nothing to make costs lower..

    Hogwash. Student loans at their current exorbitant are preventing many people from being successful because they cannot secure a job that will cover their living expenses and the interest. I see it every day. Some regulations are necessary to make repayment of student loans possible.

    • Ray January 28, 2010 at 11:03 am #

      Max, you really are a progressive Kool-Aid drinker. When has a government take over of anything ever led to lower costs? 

      • Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 11:09 am #

        Ray,

        You’re a big buffoon who obviously likes loan sharking. Nobody can afford 20% interest rate. Setting the conditions that allow people to pay back what they owe is beneficial to the overall economy.

      • Ray January 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

        “Setting the conditions”? You mean price fixing and tax payer subsidies? They’ve been doing that for years…and what avail? What you subsidize, you get more of. Higher costs because of less competition for the consumer dollar. It’s so much easier to just keep raising tuitions when your sugar daddy is the government and the tax payers are your victims.
        As far as loan sharking and 20% interest rates, that’s a typical straw man for someone who has no rational argument. If I’m a “big buffoon”, what does that make you?

      • Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

        “Setting the conditions”? You mean price fixing and tax payer subsidies?

        Prices are already fixed by corporations. For a discussion of why student loan rates need to be kept affordable, see my reply to riverside.

        It’s so much easier to just keep raising tuition when your sugar daddy is the government and the tax payers are your victims.

        Tuition is a problem, but tuition is far more affordable at a state university than a private university. Look at the numbers.

        As far as loan sharking and 20% interest rates, that’s a typical straw man for someone who has no rational argument.

        A straw man is a deliberate misrepresentation of a person’s argument. You offered assertions, no arguments. Being avidly opposed to any action taken by the government, you’re quick to support anything that “private” organizations do by virtue of the fact that they’re “not the government”. This position would be more respectable if you weren’t the person you despise: a government shill. Corporations, those organizations which set student loan rates and the price of nearly everything, are creations of the state. Corporations always have been, and always will be, entities chartered by the government. That’s the way it was before America was born, and that’s the way it will be for the long, long future. Jim Ostrowski is knowledgeable in this area and should be able to fill you in on the details. If you want to get corporations off our backs and out of our pockets, and have a truly free market, then we can talk. In the mean time, reducing the rate of predatory lending by corporations is just one more way of putting the brakes on a governmental creation.

    • RvrSide January 28, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

      Max – many people (including myself) have opted not to finish college. Instead of being in debt for 20 yrs, I have paid it all, and make a nice living. No need for over priced methodologies that I can learn from buying a book. Part of the control of the “Progessive” movment is a dependancy (at all levels) on “something.” In this case “you need a degree to get somewhere in life.” Hogwash!

      • Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

        Max – many people (including myself) have opted not to finish college. Instead of being in debt for 20 yrs, I have paid it all, and make a nice living. No need for over priced methodologies that I can learn from buying a book. Part of the control of the “Progessive” movment is a dependancy (at all levels) on “something.” In this case “you need a degree to get somewhere in life.” Hogwash!
        I certainly don’t dispute the fact that some people without an advanced degree can be successful. Today, success without an advanced education is becoming the exception to the rule. Part of the American dream was being able to realize success if you were willing to work hard. Unfortunately, being very successful without a college degree is getting harder and harder. Here are the facts:

        In 2006 dollars, the median income for a full time, year round worker with a high school diploma in 1980 was $41,400. Not bad at all. That year, the median income for a full time male worker with a college degree or higher was $48,900 – higher than that of a high school only educated person, but not drastically higher. Fast forward to 2006: A high school diploma ain’t what it used to be. The median income for a male full time worker with only a high school education was $30,000. For those male full time workers with an advanced degree, the median income in that category was $50,000. That’s a difference of $20,000.

        The median value of a high school diploma decreased significantly between 1980 and 2006, and the value of a college degree increased significantly during the same time period. (source: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77) Making college more affordable will offer more people the opportunity to secure a job, be successful, and contribute to economic growth. Making college affordable means that people won’t have to go into bankruptcy because their student loans are 20%.

      • Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

        You know Rvrside, I do wonder if it would be less expensive and better in the long run for people and the economy if we switched over from our current educational system to apprenticeships. Wouldn’t it be better if people who wanted to become a physician learned from physicians (after appropriate high school studies) earlier than this long, dragged out 7 year process (just to become a resident). In World War II, physicians were being turned out in two years for the war and they followed their careers afterwards. No different than any other doctor. Would probably give them more experience earlier too.

  9. Max Tresmond January 28, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    A 100,000 vote margin in a liberal state with Democrats enjoying a 3 to 1 enrollment advantage is very significant.

    While it is a decisive win, the vote is not surprising or significant as special elections have statistically significant lower turnout compared to general elections, with Republicans turnout always stronger than Democrat turnout.

  10. D.Graffius January 28, 2010 at 11:00 am #

    FYI I did hear your comments on WBEN at some point yesterday!!!!

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