Obama’s pep talk
From the SOTU:
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear — proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.
And so, our government will set an agenda on behalf of those who have been most impacted by technology and the new economy: workers in the manufacturing sector, small business owners, independent farmers. Or not. Apparently, those losers should just accept that the world has changed; the only thing government can do for them is spark economic growth, educate their children, and prevent balancing the budget “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” Which is helpful, seeing as how those formerly “proud men and women” who populated the middle class can now be counted among Obama’s “most vulnerable citizens.”
To observe, as much of the media has, that the speech was a mix of Left and Right – a call for unleashing business and a celebration of American innovation on one hand, and a full-throated endorsement of government spending (couched here as “investment”) on the other, is to miss the point. This was a liberal speech, running the full gamut between classical liberalism, social liberalism and welfare liberalism. There’s a certain amount of congruity to loosening immigration standards (especially when sold as a way to expand the search for the Best and the Brightest of the next generation), investing in education, infrastructure and new technologies while simultaneously cutting the corporate tax rate, bragging about trade agreements, and announcing intentions to “reduce barriers to growth and investment.”
His early moment of acknowledging the pain caused by a changed and changing economy gave way to a recitation of can-do solutions in times of American challenges. We beat the Soviets to the moon, built the transcontinental railroad, constructed the Interstate Highway System. This was the anti-“malaise” speech. Yes we can… (despite all evidence to the contrary.)
Since his last State of the Union, BP wrecked the Gulf. Wouldn’t know it from the speech. There’s nothing America can’t do, and that goes for corporations and government alike. Obama tried on the populist hat in the past, stylistically at least, and found it didn’t fit. His attacks on Wall Street were always done with a bit of a wink (“choked with anger”) and his words were never backed up with actions that fit. His days of feigning populism are gone: He’s now a Rockefeller Republican, a Clintonian Democrat, Reagan with a social safety net, a cheerleader for progress, a disbeliever in limitations.
When the stated goal is to “win the future,” the losers and leftovers of the past matter very little.