Post-SOTU thoughts

President Obama and Gabriel Giffords

Last night President Obama gave his third State of the Union address to members of Congress, SCOTUS, and ‘distinguished guests.’ Much of the speech, if not verbatim then at least via talking points, were released to the press earlier in the day. Which of course led to much prebuttal talk and denouncements of ‘class warfare,’ etc. Then the president took the podium and spoke of policies, dreams, and stories of military triumph. Governor Mitch Daniels gave the Republican response. The usual post-chatter fell along partisan lines. You know what? The election-year version of this speech by the office of the presidency is just not that important to me (especially compared to the amount of press coverage it gets) and, according to Gallup, I’m not alone:

[…] a review of Gallup historical data suggests these speeches rarely affect a president’s public standing in a meaningful way, despite the amount of attention they receive. Among recent presidents, only Bill Clinton seemed to reap a public-opinion benefit from the yearly ritual, with an average 3 percentage-point increase across his seven State of the Union speeches.

And here is the accompanying chart:

I understand the normal lure of tradition and formality. It is one of those rare moments where a Constitutionally designated function is exercised in such a way that no one cries foul. And during off-election years we hear more policy and substance. Yet it seems that the day after we’re not talking about the actual state of our union. We’re discussing it as political launching pad for the year ahead, setting the tone and agenda for party members and supporters. It strikes me as a speech that is important for politics, the people who report and the pundits who opine about politics, that rarely affects political or presidential opinion in this country.

That being said, they’re a few things I’d like point out about Obama’s speech:

It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag. In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.

Those are the facts. But so are these. In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like that never happens again.

This, interestingly enough, warranted a “Half-true” from PolitiFact. They took his mention of the amount of jobs lost before his presidency and policies followed by the amount of jobs gained in the last 22 months as “taking credit” for job creation. I don’t really see that interpretation, and it strikes me as disingenuous to do so for an organization that prides itself on strictly adhering to the actual words of a speech.

Another:

The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who benefited from that fiasco? I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad – and it seems to get worse every year.

Incredibly true. The only people who benefited from the debt-ceiling debacle was the press and blogosphere.

I didn’t watch my Governor, Mitch Daniels, provide the Republican response but I was able to read the transcript and heard soundbites this morning. Couple of things:

The President did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight.  But he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse: the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades.

This is probably the single-greatest reason that Mitch Daniels would not have earned the Republican nomination had he chosen to run. Every conservative voter and media consumer has been feed rhetoric to muddy the waters on “who” is exactly at fault for the recession and where the economy is today. I’m sure that some would point out that Mitt Romney has essentially said the same thing, but it’s sentiments like the above that leads people to view Romney and Daniels as “moderate.”

The President’s grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped economic recovery.

I don’t agree with this observation, but holy mackerel what a good line. I would be shocked if this doesn’t show up in the general election, regardless of who is nominated.

More Daniels:

In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe.  But ours is a fortunate land.   Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers.  But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.

As Josh Barro pointed out, “Governments at risk of national bankruptcy do not borrow for ten years at 2.08 percent.” Thankfully, he points out that we have a sort of grace period for dealing with out debt, in so much as our borrowing rates are so low.   Nevertheless, the comparison of indebtedness to those European countries is very thin, and substantively irrelevant when your talking about a country that prints it’s own money.

In this case Daniels giveth reasonability with one hand and taketh with the other:

“The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. […]

This is the opposite of reasonability. Pro-poverty? Casting your political opponents as propounding pro-poverty policies strike me as, well, divisive.

And, finally, speaking of divisiveness:

No feature of the Obama Presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us […]

Denouncing the advocacy of closing tax loopholes for the wealthy – which is primarily what the president and others are talking about in referencing to “paying their fair share” – as representing a constant effort to divide the American people is funny. Why? Because in the same speech Daniels advocates this (again, my emphasis in bold):

The better course is to stop sending the wealthy benefits they do not need, and stop providing them so many tax preferences that distort our economy and do little or nothing to foster growth.

Corrosive rhetoric for the president, sunny “pro-growth” optimism for Daniels. Of course he’s referring to closing different types of tax preferences, but this is a difference of degree, and not kind. Thus, when you’re talking about a difference of degree it doesn’t make sense to describe X degree as “class warfare” demagoguery but Y degree as “common sense.” One may feel those descriptions in and of themselves to be accurate, but using them simultaneously is a dichotomy that leaves me jaded. Which, actually, is a good way to describe my reaction to all of last night.

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