In an effort to review all parts of the State of the Union, we have split the address into three parts – conveniently it works, since there are 3 Conservative Bros. In Part I, I will focus on the beginning of the speech that covered most of the jobs bill, economy, and personal financial issues. MacGregor will cover the second part of the speech that included topics such as Health Care Insurance Reform, Campaign Financing, Defense, Budgeting, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and much Republican baiting. Finally, Timmy will recap the Republican Response by Gov. Bob McDonnell and look forward.
In general, I found Obama’s first State of the Union address to be very unbalanced, without a centralized message. He was very condescending in most parts, some light-hearted jabs, others, hooks to the jaw. There was minimal to no outreach towards Republicans or apologies for boxing them out of the process in the first year, but many times blame was thrown at the feet of Republicans. It showed the lack of leadership by the man claiming the Republicans were showing no leadership that rather than focus on the failures of his record majority, although it was mentioned, he threw most of the blame at the minority party who had no say in his health bills or most of the 2009 Congressional happenings.
He took some of populist angst towards the economy and made it his own, but also stuck a foot in the sand on some liberal policies that he wants to see passed right away. While many, including myself, expected him to come to the center in this speech like Clinton before him, I found generally he was still looking to pass unpopular policies in the cover of the “for the people” banner. The same policies that have led to defeats in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Some contradictions, some mea culpas, some off the cuff laughs and a LOT of ego.
After starting off with a college lecturers’ introduction, he re-emphasized the progress he believes has been made since he took office. He mentioned the stimulus and action of his administration have right-sized the economy and “the worst of the storm has passed.” But despite his great efforts, he understands the people are “angry”…and in the first of many attempts, he spins the populist angst towards his policies. He wants to maintain his standing as a Washington outsider, despite whats occurred in his first year of office. He understands the people. He wants to fix Joe Q. Publix challenges. A curious move to claim success when millions are losing money.
Next, he mentions the unpopularity but the necessity of the bank bailouts and how he promised to do what was necessary, not what was popular. Despite the unpopularity, they have stabilized the industry and nearly all the bailout funds have been repaid. So kudos to Obama for creating this program…oh wait, I forgot…Bush did this. In Obama’s speech he even says himself, “So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable.” So kudos to Obama…for making it more transparent?
Then, the President got on his tax cut high horse. Keep this in mind, for when later in the speech he blames the deficit partly on Bush tax cuts. Here is a cheat sheet: Bush tax cuts = Bad. Obama tax cuts = Good. Obama gave misleading info on his refundable rebates (these aren’t tax cuts, wait til you do your taxes), but the most important moment during this part of the speech is when he spontaneously made a comment to the right of the room (stage left, politically right) that he expected more cheers from the Republicans over the tax cuts. Of course, they know a lot of the tax cut talk is lip-service, but this highlights two things Obama is very good at. 1) He is able to think on his feet. It is endearing I think to the independent voter to see a natural laugh and smile with less reference to talking points. 2) He led the Republicans into applauding many topics that will naturally be attributed to him. If they didn’t applaud they would look out of touch.
When 3/4 of the American public said last week that the stimulus is a failure, apparently that information didn’t get to Obama or his speech writers. The President showed some grit by announcing the stimulus was a success and that it “saved” 2 million jobs. This stat is speculative at best; the agency in charge of tracking the numbers all but failed to accurately count job creation, so they switched to a make-believe “saved” number. If someone challenged the President to prove this number, he wouldn’t be able. It seems quite audacious to claim to save 2 million, when the nation lost 4 million last year, they claimed the stimulus would stop unemployment at 8% and we have climbed over 10%, and they are now talking about passing a second stimulus off the success from the first one.
The President then stated his main priority for 2010: a renewed focus on Job Growth. Of course, the Republicans and more importantly, the American people have been saying he should be focusing on jobs for the better part of 2009. So will this new populist turn be too little, too late for the Democrats in 2010 elections or do they have enough time to react? It will definitely be interesting to see what type of job plan are created and agreed upon. This was one of the few areas of the speech where he gave some details of his policy. I agree with many of them, but a few I will be skeptical of until I see more details to understand their significance. Some of the highlights he pointed out were:
- Take $30 billion of repaid bank bailout funds and give them to community banks to provide loans to small businesses. Ignoring the comedy that he has already earmarked money repaid to the government to spend again, I’m not sure where the $30 billion number comes from or if it is enough to be helpful. And why do we assume small community banks don’t need these funds to be profitable like every other bank?
- A small business tax credit to companies that hire new workers or raise wages.
- No capital gains tax on small business investments.
- Tax incentives to companies that invest in new plants and equipment.
- Continue to finance improved infrastructure and clean energy solutions.
- Tax rebates for homeowners who use clean energy solutions supporting these jobs.
- Slash tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas/Additional tax breaks those who keep them in the United States.
After briefly hitting on financial reform and innovation, the focus moved to energy solutions. In a pivot to conservative policies, before mentioning the cap & tax plan that has become a point of contention over the past year, he discussed needing to be more productive and efficient in nuclear energy, offshore drilling, investment in biofuels and clean coal energy. All of the above are the focus of the Republican energy strategy to help reduce the costs of energy rather than increase costs as the cap & tax plan suggests. His next sentence though he spun it back to needing “a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.” (NOTE: It was at this point that may favorite moment in the entire speech happened. Nancy Pelosi nearly threw her face out she jumped up so quickly to applaud at the mere mention of clean energy.)
I’ll quote the next part from Obama himself: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
Now the preceding comment evoked hisses and laughter when he mentioned the questionable “overwhelming scientific evidence” about climate change. Now I disagree with his intent to take a crack at the back of the knees of Republicans. And I feel his strategy of goading those Americans who disagree that they should still want to lead the global economy in clean energy is ass-backwards. But I don’t disagree with investing in clean energy if we can find agreement on lowering costs on other resources and make it a part of a bigger plan. We all should want to conserve the environment, but not based on skeptical data and without a long-term plan. Just doing something to say we are first doesn’t make sense to me.
Obama went on to vaguely discuss his plans for expanding export markets to new business. I agree with him about enforcing our trade agreements and working out new deals to expand our sales efforts, but he had no details about what he was intending to do and gave no answer about how he would advance trade agreements that have sat on his desk for the previous year.
To end the first half of his speech before finally digging into health care insurance reform, the President discussed education. He emphasized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its importance to expand to all 50 states. Obama wants to get rid of taxpayer subsidies to pay for student loans and instead give a $10,000 credit to families for 4 years of college. He would like to revitalize our community colleges – which I’m not sure what they entails and what needs rejuvenated. I thought community colleges were pretty profitable.
I am all far reducing the cost of higher education but the part I disagree with is his strategy to make college students irresponsible towards their debt. Why are the lenders the bad guys? It’s not a surprise, seeing our budget deficit continue to grow – if our government can’t take responsiblity, we might as well not ask our college graduates to either. Obama would like to cap payments at 10% of their income following graduation. Also, he wants all debts to be forgiven after 20 years OR 10 years if you work in a field of public service. Another slight by the Obama administration against the private sector. A man that has shown so much contempt towards the private sector will be the one fashioning a jobs bill in 2010 as his top priority. Hooray.