It should be judged by what he does with it.
President Obama’s State of the Union Speech Tuesday night was good, but what will matter more is how he uses it moving forward. For the first time in his presidency, he effectively started to connect the dots of his vision for governing and growing the economy.
Orienting the speech around education, research and development, education, innovation, education, energy, education and infrastructure, he finally made the coherent argument for the human capital investment the country needs. No longer will the country dominate because it is the only nation to have discovered market competition; other countries have learned our methods.
Although we still have the most dynamic economy in the world, it will take renewed investing in the American people to make our economic machine as strong as it needs to be. As someone who believes that education is the solution to practically every problem, this was fantastic to hear.
However, it is true that the speech was big on themes and vision but lacked specifics. This is FINE, but it is also why I say it should be judged by what he does with it. One of the problems with the first two years of Obama’s term was the lack of a coherent narrative for how each of his policies fit together into a governing philosophy. Obama explains his actions these past two years as emergency measures he had to take to keep the economy from falling off of a cliff.
This may be true from a pure policy perspective, but this does not excuse the lack of a clear explanation for how everything fit together. The problem is that although much of what he did was emergency-oriented, there still was connective tissue between all of it; he just never tried to illustrate it to the American people. As a result, he fell victim to the false and disingenuous claim of conservatives that he was a budget-busting, big-spending liberal.
Moving forward, then, as he unveils his budget in a few weeks, which will undoubtedly have specific spending initiatives, it will be important for him to continue repeating the narrative he developed on Tuesday. His State of the Union can be really helpful for him, if he uses it well. Explaining how investments in future growth are not wasteful spending is vital, and he needs to continue to hammer this point home.
If there was something the speech lacked–and perhaps (and hopefully) this is a speech he plans to give in the future–it was a more comprehensive discussion about the deficit. He spoke on Tuesday about the importance of decreasing our deficit while not neglecting vital investments in future growth.
He mentioned only vaguely the need to find bipartisan solutions to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There will be a time, however, when he does need to talk to people about what specifically needs to be cut in these programs in order to reach fiscal balance while allowing for those crucial investments.
In addition, I have not yet heard him explain: If we cut the wrong things now, we might decrease our deficit for a year or two, but after a while those cuts will impede growth and allow for the deficit and debt to balloon yet again.
Im not sure people understand yet how strong growth is just as important to decreasing the long-term debt as is budget cutting. Plenty of fiscal conservatives have said Obama punted on the deficit; I just hope he is laying the groundwork for a future deficit talk in the context of his plan for government investments.
So, overall, the speech did what was necessary. It should make people feel hopeful about the future while developing a narrative Obama can go to over and over again in the next two or six years. He’s going to have to make people uncomfortable with a talk devoted to the deficit sometime soon, but getting people to buy into what he’s selling is a necessary first step, and I think he did that Tuesday night.
In other news, I actually liked the mixed seating at the speech; it made it seem like less of a partisan pep rally. I really hate the scene of different sides of the audience standing and applauding different lines at different times.
The mixed seating may have been purely symbolic, but a lot of people who watched the speech don’t follow politics on a day-to-day basis. What they saw was not a polarized government, but rather bi-partisan approval of what Obama said.
Even though this isn’t the reality, since it was hard to tell which party was supporting which lines, I actually think the appearance of bipartisanship will help Obama moving forward. When people see their side clapping (or not clapping), their views of the President’s ideas are affected. Without the polarized scene, viewers were pushed to judge the speech based more purely on its merits, not on which lines Republicans or Democrats cheered for.
Oh, and Michele Bachmann: what an embarrassment, what a joke.
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