Last Wednesday President Obama was his usual poised, confident and articulate self. However, I think even his supporters would agree that the content of his State of the Union Address was not all that original. Maybe I follow politics too closely, but between watching Obama in office for a year and following his campaign for what seemed like a decade, I have heard almost everything from the State of the Union before. For someone whose message was supposed to be about change, the speech was just more of the same from Obama. It was full of lofty rhetoric, but the rhetoric is beginning to ware thin as the American public now has a year of results to look at, and the results have simply not matched Obama’s promises. However, there is still hope that we might be on the precipice of some major changes in Obama’s policy.
I can’t very well criticize President Obama for not passing the Democrat’s version of healthcare reform or the cap and trade bill; I think those were bad pieces of legislation and I’m glad they don’t have his signature on them.
However, the economic crisis that Obama faced upon his election did require bold and effective leadership, and sadly the stimulus bill which was Obama’s primary response to the crisis was deeply flawed. As much as Obama wants to talk about its effectiveness, the results are quite different. Despite promise to the contrary, unemployment is still hovering around 10 percent. Now originally when I heard that the plan was to use government money to fund needed infrastructure development I was alright with the idea. After all, this nation is in need of major improvements in its infrastructure. In the end though only five percent of the stimulus package was devoted to infrastructure jobs. As soon as I found this out my support quickly waned. And it has been no surprise to me that the stimulus package has not been working.
Now since saying he wants to pass a second stimulus package would immediately upset voters who feel the first stimulus package was a mistake, Obama instead stated in his speech that Congress needs to pass a jobs bill. Don’t be fooled: this is a second stimulus package. This time though we are supposed to trust him that this bill will actually go to infrastructure development.
Unfortunately trust is something that is waning when it comes to the Obama administration. Getting the first stimulus wrong has made people much less likely to support a second. It seems to me that since much of the first stimulus money remains unspent that we should be worried about reallocating that money in a more effective way before we write a check for more. In other words, fix the first stimulus package and redirect it to actual infrastructure development before asking the American people to give up more of their money for another stimulus bill.
I have to say President Obama did little to repair his credibility gap with his promise of a domestic spending freeze. This sounds good at first, but the devil is in the details. It’s somewhat disingenuous to ask for a spending freeze, effective in a year, while also asking for money for a huge jobs bill. Furthermore, Obama’s spending freeze excludes Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These of course make up the vast majority of domestic expenditures.
However, most troubling from my standpoint was Obama’s talk about ending typical partisan politics, while at the same time using the forum to attack Republicans and even the Supreme Court. Though I happen to agree with Obama that the Court’s latest ruling on campaign finance reform was wrong, the State of the Union is not the place to call out the Court (nor should Alito have responded to the attack).
My least favorite attack through was when he declared that “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 – a supermajority – 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.”
This mantra that the Republican Party is the party of no, and has no ideas of their own has been a popular one for Obama. However, it is just not true. At every turn the Republicans have proposed alternative solutions, from cutting taxes and spurring business instead of a spending intense stimulus package, to giving tax credits to help the uninsured purchase insurance rather than a massive government run plan. If you watch the news you’ll see Republicans giving ideas all the time. Furthermore, until Scott Brown got elected in Massachusetts the Democrats did not need a single Republican vote to get things passed, they can’t blame the Republicans for holding up Obama’ s agenda this past year.
However, Obama did follow up his bipartisan rhetoric with some impressive action. His decision to meet with the Republican caucus after the State of the Union (and to be videotaped doing it), was a very impressive move. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come. And there is reason to hope that Obama will begin to become more moderate and be more open to Republican ideas.
In the State of the Union, Obama, at least at the rhetorical level, came closer to Republican views on offshore drilling and nuclear power, and even took a harder stance toward Iran than we’ve seen in the past. Not to mention that healthcare reform was definitely moved to the back burner. No doubt the loss of the Democratic supermajority has something to do with this, and as it looks likely that Republicans will at least make some gains in November, this trend is likely to continue. This is good news for Republicans, but it may also be good news fro Democrats. After the Republicans seized the Congress in 1994, it is generally thought that Bill Clinton became a more effective president. Perhaps the same will prove true for Obama.