Reaction to Barack Obama’s Speech to Joint Session of Congress

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Barack-Obama-Speech-Ohio.jpg
I have just some very quick reactions to the Obama speech tonight as I’ve been on Al Jazeera English Network tonight talking for more than three hours on it and don’t want to really repeat the general patter of many other commentators and bloggers.
First, I thought that Obama’s comments on the economy foreshadow some tough judgment calls that are going to be embedded in his budgetary request that will come out two days from now. I wasn’t surprised by much in the speech — except perhaps that any speech delivered by Barack Obama ends up far better listened to than read. I was a bit astonished that he included a carbon cap and trade request in his remarks. I think that given the state of the American economy right now, this may be a negotiations move and something he will probably scale back to win some greater goods — but still impressive and surprising.
In walking Americans through the detail of the heart attack America’s financial sector is going through, he did a good thing. He helped explain why huge resources must go into creating a baseline of solvency for the system and a commitment to renewed lending and down the road growth.
But I think he failed to really frame what a new social contract between government, the nation’s firms, capital, workers, families and other stakeholders in our society might look like. He got pieces of it right — and did zero in on his three big priorities: energy, education and health care.
But as with so much of what Obama’s team has been doing, details were light, enthusiasm and hope were high, reaching out to all sides is part of the new shtick, and lots was left on the editing room floor.
I thought Obama didn’t speak as fully as he should have to the need to really rebuild America’s core infrastructure. He waved a wand over the fact that in the renewable energy sector, most of the related production jobs are overseas — and just said that those jobs need to be here without really talking about how the ecosystem for job creation in these emergent sectors will be incentivized inside the United States.
He mentioned China — not as a place where so many American manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to — but as a clearly emerging giant in the renewable energy field.
I found it odd that he didn’t reflect on his meeting this week with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso — and didn’t mention his recent meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper or upcoming meeting next week with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Most of these meetings have focused on what needs to be done to stabilize the global economic system.
And to a great degree Obama’s chances of achieving the kind of micro successes he outlined in his speech tonight depends on getting China, Japan and Germany to derive less of their growth from external export-led growth and more from domestic, internal consumption. That is key and Obama should have referenced this. It was part of the missing picture in the speech, left on the cutting room floor.
I wasn’t pleased by Obama’s talk about increasing the size of the military. More money. More men and women deployed to causes that we aren’t sure we should be fighting in this day and age. Obama is allowing incrementalism drive a lot of his thinking on the Pentagon’s role and place in America’s global engagement — and it is that overall picture that needs “a full policy review” before committing even more resources to what has been a very bad result on security deliverables.
And yes, foreign policy was a sideshow in this speech. Besides China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Israel were mentioned. Not much of the world pie.
And some in the Arab world are already really ticked off by the yet again use of Israel as the portal through which the Middle East is viewed. The term was “Israel and its neighbors.”
Many of my friends think that Palestine should have been mentioned. After all, Bush mentioned Palestine — a first for a US President.
I’m going to be more generous to Obama in my assessment. I think that the crafting of the term “Israel and its neighbors” gives Senator and Special Envoy George Mitchell the framing he needs to carve out a deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors — though I think that the deal really is between the United States and Israel’s Arab neighbors given the complete inability of Israelis and Palestinians to achieve peace.
So, I can live with the framing this time — though I hope that Obama realizes that overuse of this portal into Middle East affairs will undermine his credibility with the 22 Arab League states that he is hoping to bring to a deal with Israel.
Also, what’s up with the phrasing “sustaining our efforts” in trying to achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors. We need less sustaining and more of a results oriented strategy. Sustaining a process that has not and will not work is worth nothing and does damage. Engaging in a revitalized process that will achieve a deal that the Israelis, Palestinians and their mutual stakeholders will have to implement is what Obama needs to do.
All in all, this speech was better than I imagined it would be. It was serious in parts, had energy, talked to Americans, reached across the aisle — all good. It still lacked overall coherence, lacked vision on what America’s next social contract could and should look like. It went light on making the case that America needs a revitalized infrastructure to take it into the future – and where he addressed education and other forms of infrastructure, the gap between his rhetoric and the on the ground realities in the United States generate more disbelief than belief.
But again, not a bad show — just not the definitive, historical, brilliantly framed talk that simultaneously encourages American to wrestle with the grit of tough times while clearly projecting a horizon of opportunity that the nation can jump towards. That was what would have been great to hear — but this was not that speech.
I will check for typos in the morning. Good night.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

32 comments on “Reaction to Barack Obama’s Speech to Joint Session of Congress

  1. ben says:

    Ya sure great speech!!! Now that Obama care is pushing employees part time and raising premiums. How do u think our economy is gonna hold out? Last week a company my relative works for just fired 100 people! My rates r gonna double and I’m a poor college student. Thank you Obama!

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  2. Dawood says:

    Obama is obviously capable of becoming a real messiah for american economy and society.
    Here I’ve tried to collect all notable tributes paid to Barack Obama by peers: http://www.tributespaid.com/quotes-on/barack-obama

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  3. marta barreda-colcer says:

    Dear Mr.President: I know your speech was inspiring, BUT for
    many of my senior citizens living on fixed income it WAS NOT
    THAT GREAT because in all your projects we DID NOT HEAR any
    present assistance or near future help.
    We live in a HUD housing, and we can hardly afford the
    groceries and the gasoline has started to climbed up again….
    Therefore, we were quite dissapointed that the elderly in this
    great country yet is to remember those that can not work, sick
    and on a penny counting budgets and with hardly any food
    stamps to help
    Personally, have been quite depressed since Wachovia in Reston
    has made terrible mistakes and have taken one third of my little
    savings… Please consider senior in your endeavors….. thank
    you. It is good the have great ideas but much better to really do
    them quickly, I am sure you will agree too.
    marta barreda colcer

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  4. DavidT says:

    I share the views of those criticizing Steve on this. He says he’s ready to be bowled over but that’s not what his criticism indicates unless being bowled over means reflecting on one’s meetings with foreign leaders.
    First off, Obama showed that his rhetorical gifts do mean quite a bit. Steve would find admitting that this is true would mean admitting some of his campaign posts were silly. The speech was a first step in helping the American people understand what they are facing and what the role of government needs to be. I don’t know how he could have done a better job of this.
    His comments on torture, on Guantanamo, on working with the rest of the world though may not have been the precise words Steve might use were in their spirit about as close as they could be to much of what we’ve heard from Steve. That is, unless you wish to nit-pick and complain about his not referring explicitly to the Palestinians which is such a petty complaint in such a domestically targeted speech it doesn’t merit much comment other than a guffaw.
    Finally, what difference it would have made to anyone (other than those foreign leaders wives and Steve) whether Obama mentioned his meetings with them I don’t know. Steve doesn’t explain. Why increasing the size of the military is a bad thing when our forces are so clearly overstretched I don’t know (to me this is humane at the very least and not about being able to field more troops in Afghanistan and Iraq).

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  5. Polly says:

    I liked Obama’s speech, I thought that it addressed what it needed to and lay forward priorities and morals, which is the first step towards solutions. I feel really inspired about is when he talks about energy and infrastructure. I’m really glad he’s finally taking Dean Baker’s advice (most eloquently written in “From Financial Crisis to Opportunity” in the book Thinking Big) and STOPPING the tax breaks for corporations that send their jobs overseas!!!

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  6. carsick says:

    To remove any confusion: When I stated “…addressed the Middle East conflict only twice…”
    I was referring to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

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  7. carsick says:

    Steve, I learned some things on your take of the speech and I always enjoy learning.
    Two points though:
    First: This was not a foreign policy speech and I think you were expecting a bit too much in that arena. The economic crisis demanded the president speak to a potential car/carpet/carport consumer as well as the manufacturer and the investor. He needed to calm restless waters so people would feel more comfortable keeping money in the system and not burying it in the backyard.
    Second: Many people think President Bush in the last eight years addressed the Middle East conflict only twice; the beginning of his administration and then Rice’s late effort at the end. Obama was probably using “sustain” to show the effort demanded constancy and not the rare helicopter ride.

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  8. Kathleen G says:

    Steve thanks for your insights as well as sharing some of the views of the bloggers that you were discussing the speech with.
    While I understand the urgency that our nation and President Obama faces in regard to our economic situation, health care, education etc. I was deeply disappointed that Obama did not take this opportunity to reflect in a clear way how our nation got to this point entering an illegal and immoral war based on a “pack of lies” that many in that room voted for. I am really annoyed when Obama, Dems, Republicans say we need to “move on, turn the page” When they infer that looking back means laying blame. “blame” BLAME…there are thousands of people dead due to these bloody fucking unnecessary wars, thousands injured, 5 million Iraqi refugees. Obama indicates that “looking backwards” is a negative or BLAME. What hogwash. As Archbisop Tutu has pointed out until our President and American people come out with a sincere apology to the Iraqi and Afghani people the hatred towards the U.S. will fester.

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  9. Kathleen G says:

    I was bothered when Obama said the “U.S. does not torture” That is a flat out lie and the whole world knows it. Would have been more appropriate for Obama to have said “there will be no torture during my administration”
    “the U.S. does not torture” That was a lie and the whole world was watching.
    Tell that to these folks
    Abu Gharib
    http://www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=2444
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7905657.stm
    “”I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares,” he said.
    “Before this ordeal, torture was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim.

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  10. Chris says:

    When you said…
    “I wasn’t pleased by Obama’s talk about increasing the size of the military. More money. More men and women deployed to causes that we aren’t sure we should be fighting in this day and age.”
    doesn’t this ignore Obama’s other promise in the speech…
    That the administration will “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.”
    Although the speech may have been light on “his thinking on the Pentagon’s role and place in America’s global engagement” I think this was still a serious expression of reform for the Defense Department.
    I think Obama accepts that the Defense Budget has to be brought under control, and that a number of costly weapons programs must be axed in favour of more boots on the ground (a sentiment Sec. Def. Gates echoed in his recent Foreign Affairs article).
    This means more men and women deployed…but not necessarily a boondoggle for the defense industry.

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  11. WigWag says:

    Thanks, Will; I will take a look!

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  12. Will Bower says:

    Hey there, WigWag!
    We’ve put together a list of post-SotU commentaries over at Just
    Say NO DEAL.
    You should come and take a look!
    Good as always to see you here,
    Will

    Reply

  13. rich says:

    John Waring,
    Totally agree. Not so much a dog-whistle or code as it was an explicit reference, to my mind.
    Because while Dillon County has specific meaning for those who’re familiar, there are similar places ALL across the country. Granted, not all are in such an extreme state. But there had been a large-scale baseline problem, and now another whole strata has been sucked into the budgetary vortex. That’s not to deny the significance of Dillon’s dire circumstances. Just that we could relate before, and it’s nearly everybody now. I say, put Dillon County first.
    America will never be strong again unless you build a strong America. It’s that simple. It’s not a matter of more guns or more profitable globalized corporations. America itself has to be built–rebuilt–to strengthen the thing that is the country. That’s not tautological; it just definitional.
    That D.C. still hasn’t been able to see this, well, it’s telling. Waiting around for the American Society of Civil Engineers to issue a report card full of failing grades before coveys of policy wonks can decide there’s a problem, well, that’s the problem. It’s not news to US, so when the Brookings Institution issues another white paper about the pressing need to reinvest in infrastructure, it’s something of a joke. It’s worse than that, it’s a travesty. I could’ve told Brookings as much ten and twenty and thirty years ago. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist–every dairy farmer in Iowa, commuter in Chicago and elementary school principal in Dillon County (black) or Sneedville (white) knew there was an ongoing infrastructure crisis.
    Even now, whacking the average political operative, media personality or agency analyst upside the head with a railroad tie doesn’t seem to render them cognizant of the scale and import of the infrastructure crisis. A policy of disinvestment sure hasn’t exactly made those areas prime destinations for global private capital, either.
    Take Matt Yglesias. Please. He gets the concept right–“worthwhile projects” must be selected to “pave the way to prosperity,” but totally misapplies it, coming to a conclusion that’s the polar opposite to what the country needs. Noting infrastucture stimulus projects were not congruent with high unemployment areas (i.e., Michigan), Yglesias concluded that folks in Michigan can be relegated to making parts for Metro’s new Purple Line. Look, everyone knows ‘shovel-ready projects weren’t going to be concentrated in high unemployment zones. But the supposition that infrastructure projects in high unemployment zones have to take a back seat to projects in areas of the country that’ve always put themselves first in line, because of some obviously nonexistent metric for efficient impact, is as absurd and factually wrong as it is offensive. There’s more need for transit and high-speed rail infrastructure out there, not less. Infrastrucure investments in Dillon County and Detroit will have far more impact than another Metro line, not less. In-the-pipeline projects were heavily weighted towards unnecessary and economically damaging highway projects. They’ll go forward because they’ll get people to work faster and special interest highway builders are influential. But those projects will install structural inefficiencies that will damage the American economy for decades to come.
    For too long there’s been this attitude that only some sections of the country are deserving of top-flight infrastructure (transit, HSR, info highway, schools) and the rest of us ‘don’t really need it’. It’s utter crap and it’s what’s gotten us where we are today.
    Put Dillon County first. Put Detroit first. When you’ve done what’s best for the country, then Yglesias can have his Purple Line.
    Dillon County is not alone. Beleive me, Obama’s message was not lost on the rest of us. Newark, East Tennessee, West Virginia, Flint, MI — Elkhart, Indiana — these are not campaign stops, or political ploys.
    It’s bad; it’s nationwide.
    Obama’s got a mixed record (after one month!) — I’m irritated with several recent recent decisions on Przntl power, transparency and detainee & rendition. But he inserted high-speed rail funding, got his overall package —- and most important, was really quite confrontational in his speech last night.
    And you don’t do that if you’re hedging your bets, or failing to be bold enough.

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  14. DonS says:

    I thought the speech, as delivered, was good, and my partner keeps reminding me that it’s nice, and surprising, to listen to a Pres who can actually talk.
    But I am looking for the beef and I agree that Obama did not get the full mileage he could have. However, given that I think the intention of the speech was more mood than substance it got that job done.
    I am not one of those who see Obama as a transcendent figure anymore than the ways in which he obviously is, i.e., racial. And I am leery of extrapolating from his unique firstness to seeing everything about him and what he does as transformational. In fact, and I think Obama will need to find ways of constantly remind himself that he does not walk on water since too many are ready to attribute too much to his every action and utterance.
    It is this latter concern for keeping expectations and evaluations within the human realm that concerns me about the instant analysis, e.g., of George Lakoff. It attributes too many nuances to day to day performance. I’ll admit. Obama is real sharp; but I do not admit that he thinks in such multidimensional ways that we must be in awe. In fact that is a danger, and especially so if Obama begins to believe the more adoring press.
    True, all politicians are probably on the upper end of the self inflated ego scale; maybe they need it to operate in that environment where they all reinforce their specialness. But in the marketplace of solutions, ego is not needed. Courage and intelligence are.
    Cheering Obama at this point is misplaced. There is too much continuity with past disastrous policies to gloss over in favor of seeing only the positives. One of Obama’s jobs is to be national cheerleader. Ours is not. Ours is to attempt to be clear eyed where the Washington environment promotes fog.

    Reply

  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Freedom Versus Secrecy in Government
    Written by Becky Akers
    Monday, 23 February 2009 17:52
    They beat him so badly they broke his bones. They cut him with a razor blade while pouring “hot, stinging liquid” in the wounds, chained him in cells with open sewage, kept him in total darkness for almost two years, and drugged and starved him, among other abuses. Why? Because he was a terrorist. Correction: he knew terrorists. OK, at least he was in the same country as terrorists.
    Or so the Americans who tortured Binyam Mohamed (who has now been released) claim. Nor did they ever prove their suspicions in court.
    Perhaps that’s because those suspicions, inherited from the Pakistani police, are shaky at best. Authorities “detained” Mr. Mohamed when he tried to fly out of Karachi’s airport on someone else’s passport in 2002. Given Pakistan’s insouciance towards things like evidence and standards of guilt, Mr. Mohamed may well be innocent of everything alleged against him. But that didn’t save him from torture “by and on behalf of the United States,” when his captors handed him over to American custody. U.S. “officials” wearing masks hustled him aboard a plane to Morocco. There they tortured him. The Feds quaintly presume that the Constitution’s leash stretches only to our borders and that they may mangle men with impunity overseas.
    Mr. Mohamed eventually wound up in Guantanamo Bay. He rots there to this day, still without trial. He also became one of the five brutalized victims on whose behalf the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing and owner of the planes that flew Mr. Mohamed from one horror to the next. He and the ACLU have their gall, sniffs the Wall Street Journal: companies like Jeppesen DataPlan simply “thought they were doing their patriotic duty by lending a hand.”
    The ACLU initiated its lawsuit in 2007. Although it didn’t name the Bush Administration as a party, the government tried to quash the litigation anyway because of state secrets: the Feds insist that allowing five broken men a chance at justice somehow endangers the United States.
    Earlier this month, the ACLU tried again. And the Department of Justice (DOJ), now under new management, took the same tired tack: it urged the court to protect state secrets by dismissing the lawsuit.
    Yep, this is the DOJ of Barack Obama, the guy who endlessly hawked “Change!” Folks who believed a politician, and a campaigning one at that, are crying foul. Folks who rejected such silly rhetoric are crowing “I told you so!” But the problem goes deeper than which brand of mountebank currently infests the White House. The concept of state secrets itself is at fault.
    continues….
    http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/818

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  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Amazing. Its as if the left has suddenly caught a bad case of group denial.
    You cannot honestly appraise Obama’s actions without analyzing his complete unwillingness to actively pursue a restoral of the checks and balances that hold the Executive branch accountable to the rule of law. His support for Bush’s position on the White House emails is perhaps one of the most telling moves made by Obama thus far. This is the action of an administration that is already laying plans to cover its own tracks.
    While mouthing platitudes about a “new openness”, we see Obama putting up glitzy “questions” websites meant to imply an interest in citizens input, only to remove them, unarchived, when the “questions” run counter to official policy advocations. Further, anyone that followed that website closely, knows that the popular line of questioning did not reflect what the website presented as being the popular line of questioning. The website was merely marketing propaganda, just like his speech last night.
    Interesting seeing him nattering about cutting wasteful spending on the same day Hillary announces a 900 million dollar pledge to “rebuild” Gaza. When one considers “wasteful spending”, doesn’t it seem a bit “wasteful” to provide billions in aid to Israel, so they can raze Gaza, only so we can spend millions more repairing the rotten fruits of our subsidation of Israel’s murderous policies? Take the money out of Israel’s unearned allowance, and stop providing them with the White Phosphorous munitions and cluster bombs they are using in the modern day holocaust we are paying for.
    Watch closely as Karl Rove walks away, pissing on a Congressional subpoena, with Holder’s able assistance, and you will know all you need to know about how much “change” you are going to get from this posturing fraud Obama.
    Listen to this Administration’s rhetoric on Iran’s LEGAL pursuit of Nuclear power, then pay a visit to AIPAC’s website. Its as if AIPAC wrote the script. Did they? Do we have any reason to doubt they did?
    50,000 troops, staying in Iraq. Undoubtedly CIA covert operatives on top of that, manipulating the actions of the Iraqi leadership. How many “contractors” will remain? And what about when we stop bribing the Sunni’s, and a large contingent of American troops are caught in the crossfire between the Sunni’s and the Shiites? How wise, then, will it seem to have remained in-country with American soldiers? Do we just walk away at that point, airlifting our troops out from rooftops like in Saigon? Or do we once again increase troop le4vels. Obama said we would be OUT OF IRAQ. Is 50,000 troops remaining, “OUT OF IRAQ”???
    Last night’s speech was a pep rally and a sales pitch. Nothing more. How many of these scripted feel good skits do we have to suffer through before we finally see the wisdom of the old saying, “Action speaks louder than words”?
    And so far, Obama’s actions are screaming through, loud and clear, “Same-O, same-o”.

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  17. John Waring says:

    You all not living in South Carolina missed the dog whistle.
    When Barack and Michelle had that little girl from the Dillon county public schools stand up, they were sending an unmistakable message. The crumbling Dillon County public schools are part of the Corridor of Shame along US 95 in South Carolina. The Corridor of Shame is a series of poor, and I mean poor, counties, largely black, that can barely keep their school systems afloat. Bills have been introduced and re-introduced to the SC Legislature to create a more equitable per pupil funding system for the state, funding drawn from statewide sources of revenue, rather than funding drawn from specific counties with dwindling tax bases. Some of these schools are 100 years old and are literally crumbling before our eyes. After a rain some of these buildings are backed up with sewage. These buildings are not fit for barnyard animals, let alone our children.
    The President of the United States told the establishment of South Carolina to get off dead center and start taking care of our children, ALL OUR CHILDREN. President Obama gave them the velvet glove last night, and he’ll continue to give them the velvet until folks realize he’s got a lump of steel inside that glove. This issue isn’t going away. You think this man is done? He’s barely got started. He’s going to have the politicians in this state fried in deep grease before they know it’s warm.
    You all need to understand that this man is a Roosevelt. Go ahead, underestimate him. You all will end up crispy bacon too.

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  18. rich says:

    I think Prznt. Obama clearly did do some of the things Steve wasn’t able to see. This speech was a home run–and an act of great courage. Its strength was in affirming, in no uncertain terms, the way forward. And it went straight at those interests who must sacrifice–but so far have not.
    Bill Clinton was routinely eviscerated for reciting too many policy details–in peacetime. You’re not gonna get that at this historical moment, though I will argue Obama’s speech was not only definitive, but brilliantly and concretely framed the choices we face and the path ahead. Remember, he did this against a backdrop of massive Republican disinformation, with a huge majority of the electorate wondering if he was going to fritter away his political capital just to achieve some half-baked compromise with an opposition that didn’t even see fit to support their President in a time of great crisis. He hired Summers, Rubin & Geithner–architects of this economic debacle–and hasn’t yet brought banks to heel or toned down their excesses.
    So he had to affirm where he stood and where he was going, in no uncertain terms, and he did that very, very effectively. There’s an enormous list of critical issues on his plate, and to go into specifics on one point would shortchange the rest, particularly when most of these solutions are in flux.
    Further, Obama is too cautious and too skillful to simply say, “Here’s your New Deal” before the contours of a negotiated and palatable package have been reached. He’d be torn to pieces. Instead, he navigated by establishing landmarks that defined the space between what is reasonable and entirely unacceptable, which demanded recognition that the solutions ahead of us are the only common ground that matters.
    Now, he did this time and again, across a range of issues. It wasn’t an accident. It was highly purposeful, and that mode spoke directly and emphatically to the larger context: he defined reality for those who deny it, and led with his agenda, for those who need reassurance that’ll be taking action.
    Time and again, he was reasonable but tough, visionary but realistic. He did not spoon-feed analysts or hold the policy crowds’ hands as he defined a New Deal not by a Platform or as a Thing, but by a Method (caps for the unsubtle). Yet this wasn’t implied; it was stated.
    You don’t think there’s a New Deal in the offing when he juxtaposes a banker who gave away his $60 million bonus with an 8th-grader who had to write to Congress because her school is falling apart?
    For Obama it’s balance. And it goes like this:
    Need to strengthening the military? (1) How about starting by swiftly relieving, adequately supporting and fairly compensating our military personnel? This simultaneously a readiness issue and an ethical task — and something Washington, D.C., hasn’t been able to accomplish in eight years. I also was struck when Obama led with “increase” — but NOTHING ELSE will relieve soldiers on their 4th, 5th or 6th tours just because George Bush (and D.C.) didn’t have the political will to pay for what his mouth bought. Thus our soldiers were fed back into the same meatgrinder, again and again, even though the war itself and how it was fought was the problem and more hamburger is no solution. Haven’t heard much about that for awhile, have we?
    But that does NOT have to mean massive budget increases when the Pentagon routinely ‘loses’ $3.2 trillion: President Obama went straight at “waste, fraud, & abuse” (thank you, Ronald Reagan) and took on the irrelevant and obscene Cold War weapon systems that’ve saddled the country and reduced our foreign policy to a series of push-button military actions.
    It may not be recognizable because it’s a dose of sanity.
    If that’s not tackling an entrenched interest head-on, I don’t know what is. But it’s not mindless growth. And partway through the speech I started praying again, because Obama’s gonna be stepping on a lot of toes, and they’re not gonna like it one bit.
    Same for every other issue: Obama’s toughness was balanced with effective choices. He offered aid where necessary–without coddling the able-bodied or letting the abusive greedheads off the hook. He was able to explain that past sins of the financial ‘community’ should not stop us from aiding banks–so as to aid everybody else.
    Getting that clarity was critical.
    Same process with health care and everything else: when people can’t get treatment and small businesses go under due to the exorbitant cost, you’ve got universal support and a limited set of options: increase supply, install systemic fixes, and eliminate obscene profits. (For the non-cognizant, the policy upshot is: “Duh.”) Think about it–Cuba has health care, Algeria has health care. We get milked like Daisy the cow.
    It may not be recognizable because it’s a dose of sanity.
    So “fram[ing] what a new social contract between government, the nation’s firms, capital, workers, families and other stakeholders in our society might look like” can’t yet involve dollar figures and orders from above about who will sacrifice how much. That results in things like howling EU trading partners who feel entitled to be first in line for stimulus package contracts–even though that’d harm America’s economic recovery. That’d provoke backbiting by special interests on a level that would compromising everything else President Obama needs to do. He’ll get tough behind closed doors, find out what various parties ‘can’t’ give up, suss out where the compromise will actually fall, and then still demand sacrifice from entrenched interests–and then he’ll get whatever he’s after.
    But asking for a defined program proposal when each issue is in flux and the overall situation is unstable, and the politics has to be hashed out, just isn’t reasonable. The New New Deal will be fleshed out as Obama nears a workable deal, and will be defined after he closes the deal.
    To overpromise ahead of the game, in this economic context, would be irresponsible.

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  19. WigWag says:

    Steve Clemons is precisely right. As a piece of political theater the speech was excellent. The President took a center left position on most things which contrasts perfectly with the far right position most national Republicans are taking. And Bobby Jindal’s Republican response put the perfect punctuation point on Obama’s remarks. Jindal looked like an amateur and his speech was so retrograde and so clearly inappropriate for the times that he made his party look completely irrelevant. Jindal is widely described as the “future” of the Republican Party. If he is, it’s going to be a very bleak future indeed.
    The problem with Obama’s speech is that it was vintage Obama; all sizzle and no steak. He delivered it beautifully, but what did he actually say? The answer is not much.
    He emphasized his big three domestic priorities (energy independence, health care and education), but we’ve known that these are his priorities for almost 18 months. By giving us no additional detail he treated Americans as if we’re too stupid to understand the practicalities associated with these priorities.
    On energy independence he mentioned cap and trade but he never attempted to explain what it is or how he would set prices in a cap and trade system which is the key ingredient to its success.
    On health care he never uttered the word “universal” coverage and he didn’t indicate whether he would push for a government run insurance plan (like opening Medicare to people 55 and above if they paid the premiums) that would compete with private plans. Without an option for government provided insurance, health care reform is not tenable.
    On education he was even vaguer. There was no mention of “No Child Left Behind” and whether it should be reformed or abandoned. There was no discussion about reducing class size (the essence of meaningful education reform). Most of all, there was no full throated endorsement of public schools. The data shows that charter schools are (for the most part) failures that don’t improve test scores. Continued advocacy of the charter school concept may make for good politics, but it doesn’t make for good education policy. The idea that charter schools improve educational opportunity is turning into just another urban legend. While he mentioned education in his speech, on the subject of education, Obama said virtually nothing that was consequential.
    Practically the only thing of substance we learned in Obama’s speech is that people who don’t graduate from high school are not only letting themselves down, they’re letting their country down. I guess Obama plans to help these high school drop outs exorcise the demons that prevented them from graduating by inviting them to join his expanded armed forces. George Bush lowered recruitment standards and Obama has given no indication that he plans to raise them. Insulting high school drop outs by implying that they are not living up to some imagined patriotic responsibility by graduating, was gratuitous at best and cruel and worst.
    And of course there was no mention of Iraq. It is being widely reported this morning that Obama plans to take between 19-24 months to remove troops from Iraq and that he plans to leave a residual force of 50 thousand American soldiers. This is apparently Obama’s first broken campaign promise and the courageous thing to do would have been to announce it himself in his most important speech of the year. That he didn’t do it, tells us a lot about who he is.
    While it was nice to see an intellectually competent person delivering the State of the Union (or whatever it was called) instead of an ignorant boob, Obama only showed us what we already knew; that he’s a highly capable politician. The problem is that last night’s speech was a campaign speech. In that regard it was no different from the hundreds of campaign speeches we’ve already heard.
    It’s time for Obama to show us that he’s not only a good politician but also a good leader. On this the jury most definitely is still out; the preliminary evidence looks mixed at best.
    Steve Clemons should ask Will Bower to do a guest post on this. Bower’s perspective would be very interesting.

    Reply

  20. WigWag says:

    Steve Clemons is precisely right. As a piece of political theater the speech was excellent. The President took a center left position on most things which contrasts perfectly with the far right position most national Republicans are taking. And Bobby Jindal’s Republican response put the perfect punctuation point on Obama’s remarks. Jindal looked like an amateur and his speech was so retrograde and so clearly inappropriate for the times that he made his party look completely irrelevant. Jindal is widely described as the “future” of the Republican Party. If he is, it’s going to be a very bleak future indeed.
    The problem with Obama’s speech is that it was vintage Obama; all sizzle and no steak. He delivered it beautifully, but what did he actually say? The answer is not much.
    He emphasized his big three domestic priorities (energy independence, health care and education), but we’ve known that these are his priorities for almost 18 months. By giving us no additional detail he treated Americans as if we’re too stupid to understand the practicalities associated with these priorities.
    On energy independence he mentioned cap and trade but he never attempted to explain what it is or how he would set prices in a cap and trade system which is the key ingredient to its success.
    On health care he never uttered the word “universal” coverage and he didn’t indicate whether he would push for a government run insurance plan (like opening Medicare to people 55 and above if they paid the premiums) that would compete with private plans. Without an option for government provided insurance, health care reform is not tenable.
    On education he was even vaguer. There was no mention of “No Child Left Behind” and whether it should be reformed or abandoned. There was no discussion about reducing class size (the essence of meaningful education reform). Most of all, there was no full throated endorsement of public schools. The data shows that charter schools are (for the most part) failures that don’t improve test scores. Continued advocacy of the charter school concept may make for good politics, but it doesn’t make for good education policy. The idea that charter schools improve educational opportunity is turning into just another urban legend. While he mentioned education in his speech, on the subject of education, Obama said virtually nothing that was consequential.
    Practically the only thing of substance we learned in Obama’s speech is that people who don’t graduate from high school are not only letting themselves down, they’re letting their country down. I guess Obama plans to help these high school drop outs exorcise the demons that prevented them from graduating by inviting them to join his expanded armed forces. George Bush lowered recruitment standards and Obama has given no indication that he plans to raise them. Insulting high school drop outs by implying that they are not living up to some imagined patriotic responsibility by graduating, was gratuitous at best and cruel and worst.
    And of course there was no mention of Iraq. It is being widely reported this morning that Obama plans to take between 19-24 months to remove troops from Iraq and that he plans to leave a residual force of 50 thousand American soldiers. This is apparently Obama’s first broken campaign promise and the courageous thing to do would have been to announce it himself in his most important speech of the year. That he didn’t do it, tells us a lot about who he is.
    While it was nice to see an intellectually competent person delivering the State of the Union (or whatever it was called) instead of an ignorant boob, Obama only showed us what we already knew; that he’s a highly capable politician. The problem is that last night’s speech was a campaign speech. In that regard it was no different from the hundreds of campaign speeches we’ve already heard.
    It’s time for Obama to show us that he’s not only a good politician but also a good leader. On this the jury most definitely is still out; the preliminary evidence looks mixed at best.
    Steve Clemons should ask Will Bower to do a guest post on this. Bower’s perspective would be very interesting.

    Reply

  21. erichwwk says:

    Steve, could you have us an update re the upcoming March NAF effort w/ Martin Wolf to address economic issues?
    Has a definite date been selected? An Agenda? Participants invited? Who has accepted?

    Reply

  22. erichwwk says:

    “But I think he failed to really frame what a new social contract between government, the nation’s firms, capital, workers, families and other stakeholders in our society might look like”
    While Mondays speech at the “fiscal summit” also did not sketch out that contract, it did frame the summit correctly, and led me to expect what you say did not happen. Sorry to hear it did not happen, and surprised, disappointed. The framing of the social contract IS where a solution begins.
    Thanks for the heads up, Steve. You ask all the right questions. Was planning to read the transcript, and now you suggest the experience will be different from the audio. Grr…

    Reply

  23. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks Spunk — I disagree. I’m all ready to get swept off my feet too — but need to know that the backbone of what Obama is proposing will fix our problems today. I think we are far from that, and I’m not ready to accept gloss over some key aspects of what we need. I expressed enthusiasm for some parts of the speech — but I’m going to remain in the “not overwhelmed” crowd on this one. You know more than most that there have been other speeches Obama has given in the past that I thought hit the ball out of the park. Most of the country and most pundits are with him on the speech — and its powerful delivery (which even I think he did superbly) — but I will hold out for more as the ingredients of a broad social, political, economic fix that will move us truly forward were still wanting in my view. All best, steve

    Reply

  24. Spunkmeyer says:

    Couldn’t agree with you less, Steve. He chose his targets very well
    IMO for a 52 minute speech. The speech you describe would easily
    turn into Bill-Clinton-at-the-1988-Convention disaster.
    You will continue to be disappointed with his speeches, I predict,
    because you are continually looking for a public policy seminar
    instead of a speech directed at Middle America, which is what a
    SOTU is in the television era. You are not his intended audience for
    these things… you’d probably feel far more at home at one of those
    “Summit” thingies.

    Reply

  25. Dan Kervick says:

    I have to confess that this is the first State of the Union speech (although it was not technically a State of the Union speech) that I have watched live since 2002. I probably only saw about three of Clinton’s speeches as well. State of the Union Speeches are usually painfully soporific due to the long laundry lists of policy details that are presented, and the ritualized applause intervals which destroy pace and drag out the length of the speech.
    I thought Obama made a deliberate attempt to improve the pace and interest level of the speech by talking through one of the applause intervals early on, moving on quickly from the applause that did occur, and by thankfully limiting the policy proposals to the key highlights. I found that I was actually able to remember much more of what was said after the speech because it was relatively concise, at least compared to other SOU speeches.

    Reply

  26. Steve Clemons says:

    PeterG — I completely disagree with you. I want Obama to succeed and want to have confidence in his approach and proposals. I evaluate his words and actions as I see them. I think that Obama’s speech had some strong points and I made those clear — but he is not impressing me on a couple of fronts that I find extremely important. His foreign policy and national security approach lacks design — and needs one. His work on the economy needs to generate a new equation for growth and for a sustainable middle class that works — and I saw gloss and feel good initiatives, not a broad plan.
    Overall I thought that the speech was an opening move in the coming battle over his budget to be submitted this week….Tone was great, as Dan K said, but substance was a grab bag in my views — with the exception that he did say that he is staking his future credibility on education, health care, and energy. I don’t think that’s enough — and it’s my job to share what I think.
    All best, Steve

    Reply

  27. PeterG says:

    Steve, I am somewhat disappointed in you…in that you seem to be analyzing the speech with the intent of looking for ways to criticize the President. Maybe that is the result of your high profile position now that you have become a talking head on Al Jazeera. After what we have had to experience, and listen to, the last eight years, Americans now have a POTUS who is thoughtful and articulate and projects a forward-looking vision that exemplifies a revolution in Presidential demeanor. So, instead of attempting to criticize a forceful and eloquent speech which was delivered during one of the major crises in American history, and a new President who is still laying the ground-work to gain the confidence of the American people, I wish you would have put your personal agenda aside and looked at the speech for what it was: an attempt to promote an understanding of how we have gotten to where we are, what sort of solutions it will take to successfully stop the bleeding…not only in the United States, but in the World in general…and the expression of an optimism in the future that is hoped to inspire many who have been turned off by a government that has, of late, been un-anticipatory of problems and dangers in our lives, in the nation, and in the World.

    Reply

  28. carlos says:

    For once, and maybe only once, I have to disagree. I thought it achieved EXACTLY what you lamented the speech did not…
    ‘– just not the definitive, historical, brilliantly framed talk that simultaneously encourages American to wrestle with the grit of tough times while clearly projecting a horizon of opportunity that the nation can jump towards. That was what would have been great to hear –‘
    that’s what I heard. A frank conversation that spoke with the tone and themes that served an historic circumstance. I’m too tired to get into it but maybe it would be better not to see the speech through the lens of an intellectual, but through the lens of a freaked out, not in tuned with everything, American.

    Reply

  29. David Mercanus says:

    You seem to have expectations of perfection as well as a belief in unlimited speech length and a long attention span of the viewing audience.
    Really, you should be looking at what HE chose to put IN, not what YOU wanted to be in that wasn’t.
    This is what is significant. And just because he doesn’t mention something in his speech doesn’t mean the administration isn’t pursuing it….it’s may not be priority public consumption, that’s all.
    Therefore I think your approach to criticism is self-absorbed and politically immature. A President has limited bandwidth at any given moment to convey a set of messages. Throw out too many, and more will just get lost and dilute what’s there.

    Reply

  30. Dan Kervick says:

    I thought the tone of this speech was much better than the Inauguration speech. The Inauguration speech was a stern downer, with blunt and bracing preaching about how tough and trying the challenges are, but without the balancing elements of optimism and hope. That was a mistake, since one of the main drags on the economy right now is a lack of confidence. Obama was much more upbeat tonight, and projected winning confidence.
    While I also don’t like the idea of growing the armed forces, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the degree to which Obama made it clear that the four year deficit cutting plan he committed to yesterday depends on ending the Iraq War and cutting weapons systems. It seemed to me he hoist the war hawk Republicans on their own deficit hawk petards.
    I’m not surprised at the lack of attention to foreign policy and foreign leaders. It appears Obama has made a strategic decision to make only incremental changes in foreign policy as he works this first year on the ambitious domestic agenda. He came right out of the gate with the statement that his intention was to speak beyond the assembled live guests to the public, and the speech was filled with touches of economic nationalism. I suspect his strident call to restore US industrial leadership will resonate quite strongly.
    I appreciated the more upbeat, and occasionally even jocular tone of the speech. He seemed more engaged with the congressional audience than is usually the case, less “stately”, and engineered a lot of funny moments of back and forth ribbing between the two sides of the aisle. When he got to the deficit-cutting part of the speech, he started to crack a smile as he anticipated that he would finally got a big cheer from the Republicans side of the chamber, and when the cheer came he quipped that he knew he could get some agreement on something tonight. By the end of the speech, there was a different kind of mood in the chamber than one usually feels at these affairs.
    I think some of the values dimension elements that Washington policy wonks tend to overlook will be big winners in the country as a whole. For example, telling kids that when they drop out of high-school they are not just failing themselves, but failing their country was pretty cool in my book, and a distinctive Obama touch.
    Note how that call not to quit school was tied together near the end to the shout out to young girl in the gallery from South Carolina, with the closing theme that “we’re not quitters.”

    Reply

  31. Eaglecreek says:

    Steve, I think you miss who the speech was addressed to. It was to the millions of we ordinary Americans who are concerned about the economy, our American values and want to be a part of a revitalized America. Your guest post by George Lakoff hits the nail on the head with regards to Obama’s speech this evening.

    Reply

  32. PissedOffAmerican says:

    http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/
    Obama Admin Backs Bushies On Missing Emails
    By Zachary Roth – February 23, 2009, 5:27PM
    Change we can believe in? Maybe not so much.
    The Obama administration is siding with the Bush administration in trying to kill a lawsuit brought by watchdog groups that seeks to gain access to Bush White House emails, reports the Associated Press.
    At issue are emails from key periods of the Bush years, including the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and the investigation into the Valerie Plame leak.
    In response to the suit brought by two groups, CREW and the National Security Archive, the Bush White House recently said that it had found 14 million of the e-mails and had taken steps to archive others. But the plaintiffs called those steps inadequate.
    Now the Obama Justice Department is seeking to have the suit dismissed, just as the Bush DOJ did.
    “The new administration seems no more eager than the last” to deal with the issue, Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Associated Press.
    The AP adds:
    Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, noted that President Barack Obama on his first full day in office called for greater transparency in government.
    The Justice Department “apparently never got the message” from Obama, Blanton said.
    Sounds about right.

    Reply

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