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On Obama’s State of the Union address


 

In a presidential election year, the State of the Union address is inevitably political and electoral. The question is worth asking, though: Was this a speech about the state of Obama or of the state of the Union?

I would venture that it had a lot more to do with Obama and his upcoming campaign than it did with the U.S., largely because Obama will not get a free ride to a second term. The economy, while improving, is still sluggish and susceptible to external events, such as those in Europe. Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 45 per cent and the mood about the direction of the country remains generally morose. Polls pitting Obama against a generic Republican candidate show the president to be vulnerable. Fortunately for him, he scores better against the actual Republican field than against a hypothetical candidate.

The speech he delivered hinted at how the issues will be framed in November 2012. For most of 2011, Republicans and the Tea Party defined the political landscape. It was all about the huge debt and unsustainable deficits. It was also about how Obama’s policies were slowing down the recovery, and calling into question the American Dream. But then Occupy Wall Street emerged and the Republican race took off in many different directions. Unemployment, income security, income inequality, and economic fairness soon came to the forefront, with the growing gap between the 1 per cent and the middle class emerging as the dominant focus. As a result, Obama began a resurgence of his own.

Yesterday’s speech was about economic fairness, charting a course for greater energy independence, economic revival, improved education, and continued affirmation of American leadership in the world. In this regard, Obama presented a stark contrast between his vision and that of his Republican opponents as heard in recent debates in South Carolina and Florida.

Obama advisor David Plouffe recently repeated the oft-used mantra of “not comparing Obama to the Almighty, just compare him to the alternative.” And during the State of the Union, it was clear that Obama has his mojo back. He remains a formidable campaigner. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is having to deal with the perception that he is part of the 1 per cent—and, moreover, that he paid less than 15 per cent in taxes on millions of revenue based on investment. In fact, Romney has been running for president since 2006 without holding a job. Yesterday, Obama defined Romney more than he defined himself.

So we see the stakes emerging: will the Republicans succeed in making this a referendum on Obama and the state of the economy? Or, will Obama succeed in reminding Americans—especially independent voters—that Republican policies were largely responsible for the mess he inherited, and his vision is the better course for the future? Whoever imposes his point of view will win in November 2012.


 
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On Obama’s State of the Union address

  1. @Turd__Ferguson:disqus Actually, President Obama has walked. 
    He promised hope and change. Americans hoped that they’d live in a country where you can be treated in a hospital, not on the grounds of what you are worth, but because you are an American. Barack Obama has made the impossible, possible. He passed a legislation that gives the American people the right to medical treatment, no matter what social strata you’re in. He is the only American president who succeeded in doing so.He gave a signal to the middle class that the politicians could and can change the system. President Obama did not promise ”butterflies and unicorns”, he promised a better America for ALL Americans. You might say that he did not succeed on all accounts and I would have to agree with you. But that’s not the reason why he should not be reelected in 2012. He still has a lot of work to do and THAT’S the reason why he should win. Obama is the American dream and he is bringing it to the American people. 

    He has talked and he has walked. Let him continue his march. 

    • “He passed a legislation that gives the American people the right to medical treatment, no matter what social strata you’re in”

      Then how come CBO projections suggest that 23 million Americans will not have health insurance under Obama’s plan (see page 18: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/121xx/doc12119/03-30-HealthCareLegislation.pdf )? The plan increases the share of insured Americans from 81% to 92% (and does not cover 7 million undocumented workers). 

      Obamacare is a fairly modest reform – it institutes a mandate (you have to get insurance or else you will get fined), in addition to subsidies for uninsured people to get healthcare, and eliminates denial of service due to pre-existing conditions. 

      It is problematic for a few reasons. First, it ate up savings in Medicare that should have been applied to reducing the deficit. This, plus the backloading of some of its provisions, was a piece of trickery to make it look “deficit-neutral” (the reality is that it is a program that will cost 174 billion/year to a country with a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit). 

      Second, it doesn’t address the core problem with American healthcare, which is that healthcare – whether private or public – is too expensive (incidentally, Canadians who think US healthcare is “private” are ignoring Medicare for old people, Medicaid for poor people, and the employer health subsidy which covers employed people). Drugs are more than twice as expensive, doctors are paid nearly twice as much as in other countries, and the basic cost of doing anything is far greater. If you solved the cost problem, it would not only provide benefits to those Americans that have health insurance, but would also help those without afford coverage. 

      • Obamacare is a fairly modest reform

        I thought Obamacare was an unwieldy beast threatening to destroy the Republic.

        There have clearly been too many Republican debates on T.V., lol.

  2. if you Canadiens had to live with the kind of interference in their lives that Obozo is pushing on the American public you would be as pissed as I am. this idiot does not understand the levels of debt that his solutions are creating for the future which will eventually bankrupt. his only solution is to tax the hell out of the rich to apy off those who live off government handouts rather than work. he misses the whole point of who we are are as a country.

    • We probably live with more “government interference” than you do and, quite likely, a majority of us expect such government engagement in civil society.

      That’s just how we roll in Canada. You might say it’s who we are as a country.

      • Dog is correct. I left Canada 28 or so years ago because of creeping socialism. What we have here now in the US is galloping socialism and it must be stopped and a return made to conservative values. At least the Canadians have come to their senses and have elected a moderatley conservative government, after watching various degrees of socialism fail. I am one American that is doing all that I can to ensure that we as a country also return to those values.

        • I’m no fan of the party currently in power in this country but, compared to the collection of crazy right-wing ideologues vying for the GOP nomination, the Cons in Canada are raging moderates. In Republican circles, they’d be portrayed as hopeless liberals.

          By the way, I don’t see how “various degrees of socialism [has failed]” in Canada. There has never been a socialist government in power federally (except, perhaps, in your potted version of Canadian political history) and, in any event, by most accepted economic benchmarks, Canada is in far better shape than the mess Obama inherited from George W. and his cronies.

          • Dog is correct. I left Canada 28 or so years ago because of creeping socialism. What we have here now in the US is galloping socialism and it must be stopped and a return made to conservative values. At least the Canadians have come to their senses and have elected a moderatley conservative government, after watching various degrees of socialism fail. I am one American that is doing all that I can to ensure that we as a country also return to those values.

        • At least the Canadians have come to their senses and have elected a moderatley conservative government

          As others have pointed out, one can’t ignore the differing meaning of “moderately conservative” as one crosses the border.  Many Canadians may feel that the Harper government is too “right wing”, but on most files Harper is arguably to the left of Barack Obama.

          • “Many Canadians may feel that the Harper government is too “right wing”, but on most files Harper is arguably to the left of Barack Obama.”
            …which says something about many Canadians.  One begins to think that of the two of us, I’m the moderate!

          • One begins to think that of the two of us, I’m the moderate! 

            LOL

            Only if one thinks that the American view of the political spectrum is more rational than the Canadian view. ;-)

  3. The level of debt, the skyrocketing deficits and correpsonding government spending are becoming an existential threat to the US.

    Obama practically omits it from a description of the “state of the union” as if it’s of no moment.  No, instead he engages in class warfare, and dishonestly attacks straw enemies, as if squeezing more tax dollars from the “wealthy” (the top 10% of income earners already provide 70% of the income tax revenues, while 50% pay literally no income tax) will solve the US’s problems.

    Attacking America’s job creators for petty partisan gain in perilous economic times.  This from the man who promised to stop the divisions between Americans.

    Obama’s well known for running against straw opponents – caricatures of classic snake oil salesmen who must be run out of town, in the name of “hope and change”.  He knew precisely how to describe his opportunistic straw opponent, because he was describing himself.  A more profound case of political projection would be hard to find. 

    • You have created a fiction about Obama . Stop listening to Fox news .

      • S’all part of that ‘Kenyan Marxist Muslim’ doctrine they have to believe. LOL

  4. I’m happy he didn’t mention GE again.  I like the idea of Buffett rule and spending 1/2 of it to pay off debt.  Rich American portfolios no doubt have mostly USD, no?  Whether they like the medicine or not…
    Kerry looked peed off.
    I tried to read Europe’s budget.  I started with the EU but is mostly farm policy.  I guess it is tough to get a feel for the “balance sheet” of their past budgets; the austerity measures for Italy seemed good but I don’t know the capital base upon which it is modifying.  I’d be interested in Russia’s land use, whether they are damming rivers and keeping peat moist.  We could maybe work out some sort of service sector work visa programme for USSR who want to work in Canada?
    There might be something to the criticism of the subsidized bankrupt solar cell company.  Wafers, silicon wafers, are a relatively new commodity susceptible to new supply or loss of market.  IDK if that means hedging or subsidizing less for less mature commodities.  Hedging, I think (thus a partial bank subsidy).

  5. I’m happy he didn’t mention GE again.  I like the idea of Buffett rule and spending 1/2 of it to pay off debt.  Rich American portfolios no doubt have mostly USD, no?  Whether they like the medicine or not…
    Kerry looked peed off.
    I tried to read Europe’s budget.  I started with the EU but is mostly farm policy.  I guess it is tough to get a feel for the “balance sheet” of their past budgets; the austerity measures for Italy seemed good but I don’t know the capital base upon which it is modifying.  I’d be interested in Russia’s land use, whether they are damming rivers and keeping peat moist.  We could maybe work out some sort of service sector work visa programme for USSR who want to work in Canada?
    There might be something to the criticism of the subsidized bankrupt solar cell company.  Wafers, silicon wafers, are a relatively new commodity susceptible to new supply or loss of market.  IDK if that means hedging or subsidizing less for less mature commodities.  Hedging, I think (thus a partial bank subsidy).

    • The crow flies at midnight.

  6. It is really hard to give Obama a pass on the economy. The guy entered office with a strong mandate and high approval, but pissed it away in a partisan fight over healthcare instead of first instituting the structural changes needed by the American economy. Lets be more specific on how big a failure Obama is:

    Obama’s team projected that with their stimulus, unemployment would be 6% by now (see page 4: http://www.ampo.org/assets/library/184_obama.pdf ). In fact, unemployment is 8.5%, and would be much worse if discouraged workers re-entered the workforce. And it’s worse for some subsectors – for African Americans unemployment is 15.8%, for 20-24 year olds it is 15.5%. Obama also pledged to reduce the deficit by half. Instead, deficits well north of a trillion dollars continue, with no end in sight and the US debt has climbed above 100% of GDP. 

    Would things be worse without the stimulus? Probably, but that’s a pretty poor metric for a piece of public policy. The real question is whether things would be better today with a better focused stimulus. The answer is indubitably. If you look at where the stimulus was targeted, much of it went towards spending that is A. hard to dial back after a recovery, B. has a low multiplier rate (ie. it does not reverberate through the economy as much) and C. lack a positive long-term impact on growth. Canada’s approach of accelerating infrastructure spending, in contrast, was highly effective. That is why we had a relatively rapid recovery, while the US recovery was the slowest since the Depression (with median incomes still 10% below pre-crisis levels). 

    Are the Republicans blameless over the deficit? No. Their antipathy to tax hikes has certainly made it difficult to find new revenues. At the same time, Obama has a great deal of responsibility for the deficit. While his healthcare reform was technically deficit-neutral, the cuts it was tied to were among the easiest, politically, to implement. It is kind of like a heavily indebted person cutting back on their dining habits, and using the savings to go on a vacation – instead of becoming more solvent. And Obama has been resistant to proposals where the GOP was willing to cut a deal, such as the Simpson-Bowles plan, which would have raised revenues by eliminating loopholes in the tax code. 

    And outside of the economy, Obama has failed in many important parts of his agenda. He didn’t close Gitmo or end wiretapping. He didn’t unite the country, but rather has helped aggravate partisan divisions any further. His environmental diplomacy at Copenhagen failed, and his cap-and-trade proposal was a dead letter (and his idiotic move on the Keystone pipeline will only ensure that instead of dirty Alberta oil, America burns even dirtier coal, without the economic benefits of the pipeline). Obama has pulled the US out of Iraq as promised, it looks like the country is about to revert to authoritarianism.
    Apart from some foreign policy successes, it is hard to give Obama a passing grade. Yes, he experienced unique challenges. But like James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush (and unlike Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan) he has broadly failed to rise to those challenges.

    • Canada’s *eventual* approach?  Remember the Lib/NDP coalition?
      I hate Adobe; its Updater kills my research.  My research speed peaked around 2007.  Now with google bar and google search results showing up before I finish typing….I don’t spend money on the newest tech toys.  All these stupid ads.  It’s a wonder the 3rd world can internet.

  7. “Saul Alinsky’s son, L. David Alinsky, credits Obama for “learning his lesson well” from the Communist guru. Indeed, Alinsky Jr. who credits his late father for the success of last week’s Democratic National Convention, may have done something that Obama’s detractors couldn’t: blown the cover on the presidential hopeful’s communist leanings….[I]t was Alinsky who wrote Rules for Radicals, the bible of the far left.”BarrackObama is a Communist and he is trying to make the rest of America the same as him. His goal is to Bankrupt America and make it a third world Country.He is beginning to rally the Black people and promising them easy “welfare” in order that he can obtain their votes for the next exection…..same thing he did the last time around that got him elected. Beware Americans who you vote for.
    Reply

    • I don’t vote for any Americans.

  8. “Or, will Obama succeed in reminding Americans—especially independent voters—that Republican policies were largely responsible for the mess he inherited, and his vision is the better course for the future? “

    Given that he’s been reminding Americans of this since before he was elected, and yet managed to specifically uphold many of the policies he specifically decried, I doubt he has much credibility left with anyone outside Hollywood and the New York Times.

    Also there was “Recovery Summer”.  Also, there are gems like this:
    ““If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” (B. Obama, Feb. 2009) which is either the Greatest Orator Since Pericles’s way of referring to a clandestine affair or is said Orator declaring that if the economy isn’t turned around by February 2011 then he’ll be a one-term President.  I can’t wait to see if he does it!

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