Guest Post by Patrick Doherty: SOTU – Cart Before The Horse


Patrick Doherty is deputy director of the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
For a moment last night, watching President Barack Obama’s first state of the Union address, I got excited. Here was that moment:

From the day I took office, I’ve been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious; such an effort would be too contentious. I’ve been told that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for a while.
For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold? (Applause.)
You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations — they’re not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America. (Applause.)

For the first time since his inauguration, President Obama talked about solving the really big problems facing America. But last night he went further. Last night, the president actually identified a key element of the global reality facing the United States: China, India, and Germany, among many others, have outpaced America in the race to anchor the next global economy; and they are playing for keeps.
That next global economy will not be some mechanistic regime that can be defined by its geographic centers. The next global economy is fundamentally going to be about solving the twin global challenges of our generation: economic inclusion, or, how to bring 4 billion new consumers into the formal sector of the global economy – and ecological sustainability, that is, how to make the developed world and the developing worlds sustainable before we crash the systems that enable our global economy, like climate, freshwater, forests, fisheries, etc.
Engendering that new global economy requires discrete choices by our government; it requires aiming the reconstruction of our domestic economy decisively at inclusion and sustainability. Our economy, not our military or diplomacy, must do the strategic heavy lifting in the coming era. And the State of the Union is the proper place for announcing that kind of new American agenda.
So it should come as no surprise that I felt the wind go our of the president’s sails when his priority program after such a good set up was…drum roll please…financial reform.
The cart, financial reform, was placed squarely in front of the horse. That’s because while financial reform is absolutely necessary, it is also a subordinate policy framework. Here’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz said here at the New America Foundation just last week:

Our country faces a large number of challenges going forward – demographic problem, changing the structure of our economy from a manufacturing to a service sector economy, the problem of dealing with climate change…. If we had a vision of where we wanted to go, we would have been able to use more of the stimulus, more of what we did and the money we were pouring into the banks to restructure our institutions, our economy, to meet these long range challenges. Instead, what we did is wound up with a bigger deficit, a bigger national debt, so that we have less resources available to deal with these looming problems that we will have to deal with in the coming decades.

America first needs to decisively reshape our economy around a vision of sustainable growth that creates space in the global economy for the inexorable entry of 4 billion more producers and consumers. Then, based on that design, we need to build a regulatory framework around the financial sector that gives Wall Street the incentives to make that economy thrive.
President Obama clearly recognizes that the lost decade has put America at a strategic disadvantage that threatens our prosperity, security, and independence. Even his discussion about the need to encourage American innovation demonstrated the absence of a strategic vision: he conflated solar cells (strategic) with cancer cells (not strategic) and he led off the talk about clean energy with nuclear power plants, offshore drilling, and clean coal.
America can have the prosperity we deserve, and the lifestyle we want but we cannot have it if we continue to prop up the economic engine of the mid-20th Century. China knows that, India knows that, and Germany knows that. The sooner America figures it out, the better.
— Patrick Doherty


11 comments on “Guest Post by Patrick Doherty: SOTU – Cart Before The Horse

  1. Don Bacon says:

    I cannot do it alone
    From: Don Bacon
    To: President Barack Obama
    I have worked against war and for peace for six years.
    I have founded the Smedley Butler Society to spread his philosophy that war is a racket, demonstrated in the streets and otherwise worked to stop war and wasteful military spending.
    It’s been a tough slog. I have no illusions — there have been setbacks, and there will be more to come. The special interests who have shaped the status quo will keep fighting tooth and nail to preserve it.
    So tonight, I’m asking you to join me in the work ahead. I need your voice. I need your passion. And I need your support.
    Can you help fuel our fight against wasteful military spending and against war by seriously reducing the $15 billion that goes to the Pentagon every week and ending these stupid wars?
    Thank you for making it possible,
    Citizen Don Bacon


  2. samuelburke says:

    the story above about israeli agents came from col pat langs


  3. samuelburke says:

    americas greatest ally in the middle east continues stabbing us
    in the back with the knife that american taxpayers bought for
    “New documents presented in federal court in Washington, D.C.
    reveal deep ties (more than was known) between Israel
    Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Dr. Stewart David Nozette, an
    American astronomer accused of spying for Israel.
    The media here covered his arrest on October 19, 2009 and
    then interest waned, though the American media are still
    monitoring the case.
    Two attorneys in the counterespionage unit of the U.S.
    Department’s of Justice National Security division, Deborah
    Curtis and Heather Schmidt, presented documents found on the
    scientist’s computer. One document, titled “Proposed
    Operations for 2005-2006,” referred to the need to carry out “a
    penetration of NASA,” the U.S. space agency.
    Another document, according to the prosecution, shows Nozette
    attempted to obtain highly confidential material by using his
    high-level security clearance and infiltrating other people’s
    computers. ” Ha’aretz
    And now for something different…
    The hearing referred to in the Ha’aretz story above occurred on
    22 January 2010. This case is still a live issue and will go to
    trial sometime in the next few months if the case is not
    somehow suppressed by political action.
    I am particularly struck by the fact that Nozette traveled several
    times to Israel without reporting this to his security officer. pl


  4. Don Bacon says:

    Jeez, they’re worse off than I thought.
    recent email (extract):
    I cannot do it alone
    From: President Barack Obama (
    Sent: Thu 1/28/10 12:56 AM
    To: Don Bacon
    Don —
    I just finished delivering my first State of the Union address.
    I set out an urgent plan for restoring economic security for struggling middle class families. This is my top priority, but I cannot do it alone — and that’s why I’m writing to you now.
    I have no illusions — there have been setbacks, and there will be more to come. The special interests who have shaped the status quo will keep fighting tooth and nail to preserve it.
    So tonight, I’m asking you to join me in the work ahead. I need your voice. I need your passion. And I need your support.
    Can you help fuel our fight for the middle class with a monthly donation of $15 or more?
    Thank you for making it possible,
    President Barack Obama


  5. Outraged American says:

    The balancing act between the Haves and Have Nots will last until
    we turn off American Idol and get the pitchforks and the guillotines


  6. joe mcdermott says:

    Typical Washington Think Tank vapor.
    “reconstruction of our domestic economy decisively at inclusion and sustainability…”
    “decisively reshape our economy…”
    What is this guy? A Stalinist central planner? Or perhaps a French Physiocrat?
    I used to like this web site a lot and maybe still respect Steve Clemons. But if Clemons is now pandering to the Washington crowd, then forget it.


  7. Frederick Brown says:

    So Americans must resign themselves to being service workers? Who will we service, the rich? How long do you think this balancing act between the Haves and the Have Nots will last?


  8. Liz says:

    While I agree with the opening premise, what in the hell does this mean: “America first needs to decisively reshape our economy around a vision of sustainable growth that creates space in the global economy for the inexorable entry of 4 billion more producers and consumers.” Well, duh. Could you be a little more vague ?
    Spare me the intellectuals who comment on how America needs to adjust to the new global economy, but never provide any specificity other than “suck it up and be happy you have a job”. I’ve been hearing this claptrap since the Clinton administration. Wasn’t that what the repeal of Glass–Steagall Act and NAFTA were all about ? Making America more competitive ? So how did that work out for us ? Oh yeah, we just didn’t have a vision thing. Horse puckeys. We need more than just someone saying that America needs to get on board with some vision thingy and a strategy for being competitive in a global economy.
    I am so sick and tired of people who point out what America is not doing right and never, ever provide specifics about what it should be doing right. So does the honorable Patrick Doherty think we should continue to marginalize unions, shove more jobs overseas, accept that we don’t now, and never will again, manufacture anything in the U.S. competitively ?
    I can’t tell because nothing in this little summary in any way gives clear specifics on the present state of the US “economic engine” except to hint that the 20th century manufacturing model is dead. I get the impression that now that China has the factories and technology that once serviced the American consumer, that they will be using them to build their own consumer economy. There has only been one item I have purchased in the past year that was made in the good ole’ United States of America. Pretty scary if you ask me.
    How about a few examples of businesses which should be the future foundation of the American economic engine as opposed to this typical intellectualized discussion of what every thinking American in this country already knows. And I am talking about businesses that provide jobs that won’t be shipped overseas and don’t include phrases like “will you have fries with that” as part of the employee training.
    Talk about restating the obvious. Maybe Mr. Doherty just doesn’t want to state the elephant in the room which is that Americans will never again attain the 1950-1970’s standard of living until American salaries have equalized with China and India’s. At least not as long as multinational businesses are placed before the American people in the government’s priorities. I don’t have the answers, nor am I smart enough to provide even the economic questions which require such answers. However I am able to detect more of the same old B.S. I’ve been hearing for twenty plus years and I am tired of it.


  9. JohnH says:

    Besides financial reform. there are three key pillars to economic reform:
    One, significantly depreciating the overvalued dollar. Without it America’s job creating industries will remain uncompetitive, no matter how many tax breaks and regulation roll backs are given.
    Second, dramatically cutting military spending and putting the money into infrastructure, education and health care. These sectors are all in desperate need of funding. And they will help America’s competitiveness because they directly contribute to productivity. “Defense” spending contributes to America’s relative decline, because it contributes little to productivity.
    Three, bust the monopolies. Without free market competition, America will never become competitive again.
    Curious that Obama mentioned none of the above. Obviously those funding the political elites are adamantly opposed to fundamental change.


  10. Don Bacon says:

    Our prosperity, security, and independence are threatened? Well, obviously that doesn’t apply to those who are resisting change, and doing it quite effectively. The war racketeers and financiers are doing extremely well however, thank you very much, and apparently there’s not much the rest of us can do about it (though we continue to try).
    Changing the structure of our economy? That IS happening. For one thing temporary jobs are now permanent for many people, and they’re happy to have them.


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