Obama’s pep talk

Lisa Kramer

Lisa Kramer is a contributing contributor at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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45 Responses

  1. E.C. Gach says:

    Thanks for being the first to post on the SOTU at the League. Some thoughts:

    “This was a liberal speech, running the full gamut between classical liberalism, social liberalism and welfare liberalism.”

    I’m not sure what labels accomplish here except lead to taxonomic debates and force thoughts/ideas into old formulas and patterns of the past. That doesn’t mean the ideas can’t be critiqued, but such refutation must take them in their own right without first trying to tie them down to past conceptions: “anti-‘malaise’ speech,” “Rockefeller Republican,” “Clintonian Democrat,” and “Reagan with a social safety net.”

    I’m not sure what half of those labels mean, or how defining them would add to the debate over what is necessary moving forward. And yes, this is about moving forward, though from the tone of your post you seem to feel that the “can do” tone of hope and progress is either disingenuous or not grounded in our actual situation and the required solutions. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting you though?Report

  2. I think that’s a histrionic but fair assessment of our President. He is Reagan with a social safety net, isn’t he? A lot of people might consider that fairly ideal. Politically, it’s a winner. Reagan was exceedingly popular, and his weakest link was an apparent disdain for the social safety net. But, there remains the Tea Party opposition to the President, largely based on politicking, that seems to cast the above portrait as totally wrong: Obama is a socialist. There may be no basis really for this assertion, but politically it has carried the day.Report

    • Didn’t mean it to sound histrionic… the list wasn’t arbitrary. Rockefeller, Clinton and Reagan were deliberate comparisons – all had similar beliefs about growth, and just differed on how to treat those left behind in the process. And politically, Reagan + safety net may play very well.

      I’m still trying to figure out the tea party. Maybe it really is so splintered that it’s nothing more than a Rorshach test – to some people, they’re just ultra-conservative Republicans, to some, they’re libertarian, to some, they’re sort of reactionary populists, to some they’re racists or conspiracy theorists, etc…Report

      • Is being critical of economic policy aimed at producing growth a politcal loser? Do you think there could ever be a President who said, “All this focus on growth at all costs is making us forsake our traditional lifestyles and sacrifice our environmental inheritance.”?

        I think your theory of the Tea Party as a Rorshach test is extremely interesting. What does one’s assessment of the Tea Party say about one’s own political biases? Is the incoherence surrounding the Tea Party just a function of the inability to centralize political discourse in this country (try as we might)? Does the incoherent nature of the Tea Party indicate a failure of that political centralization project?Report

  3. Scott says:

    Sorry, but who cares what the bloviater in chief had to say? So he has heard the frustration but what is he really gong to do about it? Maybe push global warming legislation and kill more American jobs? The deficit is pushing new records and he still wants to spend, sorry I meant “invest”. The wife and I watched The First 48 on A&E instead.Report

  4. Robert Cheeks says:

    Lisa, I feel your pain.
    Barry, is and remains, of course, a Kenyan-Marxist and horses don’t really change their colors. Two more years and it’ll be over. The question remains if he’ll be able to achieve the destruction of the economy or not; stay tuned.Report

  5. North says:

    I’m pretty snoozy about the SOTU in general. Obama gives a big speech; republicans are outraged; liberals are disenchanted; sun rises in the east.

    A quibble: the BP oil spill appears to have mostly vanished into the gulf with only modest damage and none of it approaching a level of “wrecked”. The scientists went diving looking for oil and found a lot of very fat happy bacteria. So that might be going overboard.

    As for the rest; a Clinton Democrat or a Rockefeller Republican? Right now that sounds pretty good.Report

    • dexter in reply to North says:

      I think you might want to do a little more research on the oil spill. If you wish you can start at Disenfranchised Citizen. The Gulf may not be totaled, but it, and the coast people, are seriously damaged. Just because the major news organizations have quit on the story doesn’t mean the story is over.Report

      • North in reply to dexter says:

        I’m not one to say we got off spot free. I merely don’t think totalled/wrecked is an accurate assessment. It was, as I said, a quibble.Report

        • Lisa Kramer in reply to North says:

          At the very least, it was a pretty big event that could have (and should have) taught us a lot of lessons that he completely ignored. Maybe a product of the length of the national attention span, but for a speech filled with talk of progress and innovation I thought the spill at least deserved a mention.Report

          • Derek in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

            Of course it deserves a mention, to say the very least. The problem is, massive environmental castastrophes are a downer. We seem to be a country of adolescents – we don’t want to hear about how effed up it all is, we want to hear about how we can go on having our cake and eating it too. Reducing oil dependence sounds hard. We want to hear that we can have jobs – cool jobs, not the crappy jobs Latino immigrants do. We want to hear how the government can give us tax cuts that magically pay for themselves. We want to hear that it’s all good, we can just put it on a credit card. Hell, we want Tinkerbell to survive without us having to believe in fairies.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter says:

        Question Dexter: Has the oil workers gone back to work in the Gulf yet? Just curious, I don’t know?Report

        • dexter in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          Hello Bob, deep water drilling is down a lot, but the rest is going just like before. Most of the work was closer to shore, or part of maintaining what was already in place. The people who are hurting the most, both health and money wise, are the ones who live near the coast, are fisher people or ran stores or tourist type places near the shore.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to dexter says:

        “The Gulf may not be totaled, but it, and the coast people, are seriously damaged.”

        And one of the reasons that the Gulf and the coast people are so seriously damaged is the number of people insisting that the Gulf and the coast people must be seriously damaged.

        “I’m not going to eat Gulf shrimp, everyone says they’re full of oil!” “Have you actually looked it up yourself?” “Well, no, but everyone says they are…”Report

  6. 62across says:

    Lisa –

    What were you expecting him to say in a SOTU address?Report

    • Lisa Kramer in reply to 62across says:

      Probably about what he said.

      I wasn’t surprised, I just didn’t like it.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

        That’s fine Lisa, and I understand your concern here. The plight of industrial workers in competition-battered industries and areas is very bleak. But, SOTU aside, what is the agenda you are hoping for? I was just glad there weren’t any uses of the word “retraining” that I noticed. What a dreary word. But I honestly don’t know what we can do for workers who worked in an industry for two-thirds of a career, only to see it dry up in their area, other than focus on spurring new industry, giving them all the help we can to identify and develop marketable skills, and try to give their kids all the best opportunities we can. And that’s ore or less what I heard the president call for last night, however vaguely. What is it you would like to see on the agenda for displaced industrial workers? Do you have free trade in your, um, “crosshairs”? If what you have in mind is an attempt to preserve or “protect” their industries, are you really sure you want that as the country’s and your party’s approach to industrial policy going forward: an attempt to preserve a static, even traditionalist, industrial base, rather than embracing change, dynamism, and innovation? I know this presents a challenge and requires trade-offs where your own understanding of the traditional values of the old-line values of the Democratic Party is concerned. But, similarly, is that really the political model you want the party to embrace, knowing the world for what it is now? I guess you have made clear that to some extent it is with your past writing here.

        We should at least consider the possibility that the best we can do for those who have been hurt by the vast changes that have buffeted the world economy over the last thirty years will look, in broad strokes, something like, or at least be consistent with, the general vision laid out by the president last night. That is not to say that he made a masterful speech that contained specific solutions to our most pressing problems. He clearly didn’t; in fact he didn’t even address many of our most pressing problems. But we shouldn’t think that there are magic bullets, especially for the problem you mainly focus on here. Indeed, the problem you voice concern about here is actually the main problem Obama was addressing last night. I understand that you don’t like his approach to solutions much. But I actually do think that the president could very credibly say that, whatever you think of the ideas, what he was outlining last night were precisely his answers to the questions you raise here. Call me a neoliberal, but I am inclined to agree more with his vision than with what I understand about yours. But I’d be pleased to hear more from you. This is certainly the most important debate that can be had within the Democratic Party at this moment (and the Republicans should feel free to join in too if they want).


        I suspect that some of what we’re seeing in response to the speech, where folks are noting, for example, the failure to address or even nod to the bleak reality around such problems as climate change, the depleted manufacturing employment base or the Gulf as you are here, or in other quarters Afghanistan, is just the cognitive dissonance between how bad things are and the more optimistic tone that the president chose to adopt. And that is of course a perfectly legitimate response. But that is also the nature of an attempted optimistic Rally-The-Nation speech, of which this was a sort of moderated version. Spend too much time outlining the problems, and you may undercut your message about how to move forward. Either response — disliking the elision of reality, or embracing the vision — are entirely legitimate. And beyond that there is the question of whether a person even can go along with the agenda offered. If one prefers to focus on the problems, that is a legitimate choice. If one chooses to embrace some or all of the agenda on offer, not implying that one sees it as sufficient, I see that as more productive myself. But if one both rejects the agenda on offer, and also alludes to an alternative agenda that could have been offered, it seems to me like a smart person who has worked in this area and has clearly spent time thinking about the issues has at least some obligation (though only a notional one) to say what that missing agenda might look like.

        So again, as I said above Lisa, I’d be interested in hearing more about what you have in mind in terms of an economic agenda for country at this time. Nothing could be more fundamental to a party that defines itself by its commitment to the economic welfare of the bottom 90%, or at least has traditionally done so.Report

        • These are all good questions, and there’s a lot to go through here – probably too much to completely address in a comment reply.

          For one thing, I don’t expect any president to ever stand up and lay out my ideal agenda. But, since your question was about what I would like to see, I assume you mean if I were the speechwriter, and the only voter.

          If that’s the case, then yes, I’d put many of our trade policies in the “crosshairs.” As an alternative to the constant call to create “jobs, jobs, jobs,” we could also pursue policies that drive down the demand for jobs; i.e. ensuring that 1 job pays enough to support a family. To that end, he could’ve talked about pro-labor policies, like the Employee Free Choice Act, for example. It could also, realistically, mean taking a tougher, not looser stance on immigration issues.

          I rather like Obama’s call for investing in green technology – that is one solution that doesn’t require “re-training” the work force (and yeah, dreary word.) I would caution that he shouldn’t treat green technology as the magic bullet to energy issues though; as pessimistically Carter-esque as it is, he really does need to call for some personal consumption limitations (voluntary, I mean.) This would’ve been a nice time to bring up BP in the speech, and an even nicer time to announce an indefinite freeze on offshore drilling.

          Also, just to point out, my views do differ in some significant ways with traditional old line Democratic policies (which I take to mean, New Deal policies). I am pro-labor, but I’m not so much pro-centralized government. So in terms of budget issues, I have no problem cutting funding for things like the Department of Education and I was pleased to hear the proposal to make significant cuts to the Defense Department – if it were up to me, I’d end combat in Afghanistan, which would certainly (as a secondary rationale) save a few bucks. I do have deficit concerns.

          On a state and local level (and ideally, most decisions would be made here), I’d protect local business by passing combined reporting on out-of-state companies, increase the tax rate for those with incomes that exceed $1 million a year, and end or lower regressive taxes such as consumption and property taxes. I’d limit development, and dis-incentivize the “brain drain” in older rust belt and rural communities (there are a number of ways this can be done).

          Sorry if some of that got off track a bit – it’s always fun to spend a few minutes in political fantasy-land.

          To your other point, I do think there’s a backlash against the disconnect between Obama’s optimism and the national pessimism. I guess I can only speak for myself, but it rang hollow to me. All I could think of was those “pardon our progress” signs that go up at construction sites and back up traffic for miles. I’m fortunate enough to have a job (although I was certainly hit by recession-related unemployment earlier) but I have people very close to me who are in some real trouble. It wasn’t very comforting to me to hear the President acknowledge that pain as little more than a growing pain on the way to beating the Chinese. So yeah, even policies aside, it was a bit off-key.

          Anyway, sorry for the long comment response. Hope that helped clear some of it up.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

            A long comment (perhaps post length) justifies a long response, and I appreciate your taking the time to write one. I’m going to read it closely and perhaps we can continue the discussion by email.

            I appreciate the perspective you bring to this site, Lisa, and admire you for sticking with the place as your venue for airing your views. In terms of both ideas and personal perspective (as evidenced in the name of the blog), it must take fortitude for you to do so; more than I think I would have if I were you. (No offense is intended to the editors by that [They will surely not take any.]. This is not a critique, but these are just realities.) I have a lot of respect for your having and exhibiting it. I look forward to continuing a dialogue here with you.Report

          • James K in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

            If that’s the case, then yes, I’d put many of our trade policies in the “crosshairs.”

            So your solution to economic problems is to make your country poorer? Curious.Report

      • 62across in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

        Fair enough.

        Likely I was more receptive because the speech was so in line with what I’ve been suspecting has been the plan for some time: Go for some big stuff in the first two years, while you have majorities in the House and Senate and a bit of a mandate. Tack to the center in the next two years to improve your shot at a second term. Use the second term to change the “trajectory” of America in the way that Reagan was able to do (as Obama famously noted during the campaign).Report

  7. tom van dyke says:

    In 2008, I said I’d vote for Obama if he ever used the word “liberty” in any meaningful sense.

    Still waiting.Report

  8. Pat Cahalan says:

    The part that I found entertaining was the audience response. Cantor, for example, looked downright gloomy when Obama talked about reorganizing the government. I thought he would be cautiously optimistic about that line. Boehner’s applause pattern really matched the New GOP: Defenders of Medicare.

    And of course, the big stone cold silence from all parties that followed his subtle jab at Congress to publish their visitors’/lobbyist list online. That got an outright laugh out of me.

    On the whole, I thought it was pretty calculated political stage play. “Stuff the Republicans hate” (democratic ovation), “Stuff the Republicans ought to like” (somewhat bipartisan ovation), “Stuff Republicans hate” (democratic ovation).

    The closing chunk with the patently obvious “America, Fish YEAH!” lines and the audience response fully activated all my cynicism meters, that’s for sure.

    The bit about the veterans and the response of the Joint Chiefs was honestly nice to see. They don’t normally budge from the still militarism posture during the whole SOTU, so seeing them get up and applaud was moving even if the rest of the audience response was formulaic.Report

  9. Dustin says:

    I understand and value conservatism. I think it’s an entirely necessary element of any functioning political system- especially in moments where “change” is inevitable. But I have to wonder what purpose a rant like this serves. Aside from venting the collective angst of Obama’s detractors, what does it add to the conversation? For those of us who truly value conservatism- it’d be nice for those with good ideas to join into the conversation, rather than hurling insults at it. Then, perhaps, the crucial elements of conservatism might actually be able to balance out the (sometimes misguided) eagerness of the other side.Report

  10. tom van dyke says:

    Obama = Reagan? The analogy game has just been kicked to the curb. Each is more comparable in the analogy game to Adolf Hitler than each other. A sophist’s delight, try it on for size.Report

  11. tom van dyke says:

    Obama: Winning The Future.

    I grew up on National Lampoon. The Left had all the fun because it was funnier.

    As The Worm Turns. All the lefties here are so crabby. Lighten up, Francis.Report