Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The State of the Union is Good as the President Goes Bold

     Wow. Many liberals had exhorted the President to go big, notably, for instance, Greg Sargent urged him to 'Go on offense, Mr. President.' That was on Monday:

     "A raft of stories over the weekend reported that Obama’s State of the Union address will focus heavily on the economy. But what remains to be seen is how aggressively Obama will use the high profile setting of a SOTU speech to make the case specifically for Keynesian economics. That is, how strongly will he press the arguments that spending cuts hurt the economy, and that the best way to deal with the deficit over the long term is by investing in economic growth and job creation?
The recent economic contraction — which was driven largely by reductions in defense spending — provides the perfect jumping off point for this case. There’s also the looming sequester cuts, which everyone agrees will scuttle the recovery if allowed to go forward. Obama has at times addressed the true nature of the relationship between government spending and economic recovery, though he sometimes couches it in careful language about having to avoid “self inflicted wounds.” I’m hoping Obama builds a much more extensive case explaining another of his oft-repeated phrases: “We can’t cut our way to prosperity.”

     "This would entail spelling out with total clarity that the GOP approach to the sequester — to replace it only with spending cuts, and no revenue increases — is not only uncompromising, but is also deeply wrongheaded, a profound threat to the recovery, and completely at odds with the approach to governing that carried the day in the last election."

    Today this same Greg Sargent likes what he saw and thinks Obama did a good job of at least beginning to educate the pubic about the truth of the debt and deficit brouhaha. Mission accomplished:

    "Obama’s Inaugural Address laid out an expansive progressive agenda that was focused heavily on civil rights and rooted in the founding values of the country. His State of the Union speech was Chapter Two of this story. It laid out a progressive economic blueprint that was focused heavily on nuts-and-bolts policy ideas and rooted in a much more basic call for economic fairness, shared sacrifice in bringing down the deficit, and aggressive government action to help struggling Americans gain access to the middle class."

    "Obama — having been lifted to reelection by an ascendant majority coalition of minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, mostly women — gave very little ideological ground to his opponents. His speech built on the Inaugural address in the sense that it continued to reshape the conversation around the priorities of these core groups — only with a more direct focus on the economy."

     The President certainly wasn't shy about going bold and making a strong, assertive case for liberal policies, certainly there was a large focus on liberal economic policies as Sargent had urged.   He certainly made the case that there's more to life than deficit reduction.

     While I for one had expeted the President to give an assertive speech as he did at the Inauguration, he surprised everyone by coming out for a $9 minimum wage-that ought to give Scott Sumner hives. I'm still waiting for his first snarky comment about it.

      He already regularly claims that the $7.25 wage has been a contributing factor to the unemployment rate. So will this send it up further? I know it would seem that Obama wont get this or the other big proposal he had for universal preschool.

      A couple of points here.

      1). It's important for him to make the case. That he's willing to not confine himself to simply what the conventional wisdom deems possible is a very good thing. He's playing bold in that he's not just playing the field he's been given, but moving the goal posts. This is a real change for Democrats. For years they party has mostly played a conservative game plan-not ideologically but strategically. Sargent likened the President's speech last night to Clinton's SOTU speech in 1996 when he urged the GOP to never, ever, shutdown the government again

     "Ultimately, though, the great amount of emotional weight Obama brought to the call for sensible gun reform was in many ways the most arresting moment of the evening. The repeated refrain that victims of gun violence “deserve a vote” on gun reforms, combined with the presence of victims in the audience, was reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s 1996 SOTU speech in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which he pointed to a federal worker in the audience who had heroically helped victims out of the rubble. Clinton exhorted Republicans: “I challenge all of you in this Chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.”

    "The historical circumstances are different, but the message to Republicans is the same: Don’t allow ideological radicalism to get in the way of common sense, collective action on behalf of the American people."

    "In the end, the policy heavy nature of this State of the Union hearkens back to another element of Clinton’s SOTU speeches. Those were premised on the notion that Americans want policy — they want to hear their president spell out, in as much detail as possible, where he wants to take the country. The realities of Congressional opposition to Obama’s agenda remain very real, and it still remains to be seen what Obama and Dems are prepared to give away to secure a deal to bring down the deficit. But Obama laid down a firm set of priorities that he hopes will define his second term. If Obama’s Inaugural rooted the call for a progressive agenda in the country’s past, today’s speech offered a policy-heavy roadmap for a progressive future."

     I agree. However, Clinton was from an era when Democrats still were somewhat on defensive, ideologically speaking at least. Clinton was a "New Democrat" who played a subtle triangulation game. I don't mean to disparage it. Some might but I never will. Clinton set the table for Obama. In the long term it was his election that begun the party's national resurgence.

    However, it can't be denied that the Democrats were more on defense back then ideologically. There was some consternation about even using the word "liberal." There was talk of a Third Way and some felt that the Dems should call themselves "progressives" rather than liberals. Clinton did also did the one thing that I wish he hadn't-welfare reform; though I think this was, again, the time in which we lived: he may have to have done it, in any case, he thought he did. What's new now is the way Obama asserts liberalism without apology. Indeed one of the main objectives of the speech was to give his opponents a "Golden Bridge" to retreat on.

    On this, mission accomplished. The bridge was the only thing being offered to the GOP last night. Couldn't help but notice that Boehner looked like an undertaker at his own funeral.

    "President Barack Obama had a simple message for Republicans in Congress: Do it my way.
Forget about shutting down the government to force spending cuts, he told the GOP in Tuesday night's State of the Union address. Don't think about defaulting on the debt and, while you're at it, close tax loopholes."

    "Clearly, Obama wasn't in a mood to compromise."

     "The president's speech doubled down on his hard-charging inaugural address in promoting liberal Democratic policy ideas, without ceding any ground to Republicans in Congress."

      "And from Obama's point of view, why should he? The president is fresh off a convincing re-election victory and Republicans are soul-searching over their party's future, increasingly reluctant to put up a fight. The GOP leadership already flinched by giving in on the debt ceiling and tax hikes. Obama seems determined to see what else he can get out of them."

      "At a time when Republicans are insisting on spending cuts, Obama pushed more public spending on universal preschool, construction work on bridges and schools and a jobs program rebuilding vacant homes in rundown neighborhoods. He pushed for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour, with future increases tied to the cost of living. And he continued to push in support of left-leaning social issues including gun control, immigration reform, climate change and advancing equal rights for gays."

     This brings us to point 2.

     2.) He may be able to get more of these bold demands than anyone now thinks. Elections have consequences-the Kristol Premise. I'm not so sure that he won't get more now than you might even want to hope. As Sargent notes, the GOP options are not so hot.

    For them to simply obstruct is going to be much harder now. They've already bowed to that reality by ending the Hastert Rule-where for legislation to come to the House floor you needed a majority of GOP support-to just make it ot the floor mind you.

    While the minimum wage may seem unthinkable, it is a very popular idea across party lines. Recall that Bush signed a hike in 2007.  I admit I'm feeling some schadenfreude. I'm waiting for that first Sumner denunciation of a $9 minimum wage.

     That would be more in line with what more progressive states and localities have done-I believe the highest right now is over $10.



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