Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night. That might seem like a long time ago when it comes to standard news cycles, but I decided that someone has to take their time when responding to think it through a bit. If you’re already tired of this analysis, I’ll understand.
Immediately after the speech, people tended to criticize it for being long. An hour or so out of your life isn’t that much for a President to ask, so hopefully we can get past the issues of presentation and get into the meat of it. I will provide links to past articles to explain where I am coming from in more detail as I go.
Long Focus: Obama mentioned several times that he inherited a terrible mess that was made over a period of a decade or more. That was labeled as “whining” or a “blame game” by some commentators, but I think that the simple truth of this has stuck in the general population. That means that people are beginning to develop some patience for what has to be done.
Jobs: As many of you know, I’ve been asking for a major jobs program for over a year now. The reason that this is essential is not simply the 10% unemployment by the U3 measure or the 18% by broader U6. The problem is that an entire generation is having trouble finding their first job. The size of this problem shows the potential payback if we invest in this generation now. I wanted a lot more than a few paltry billion bucks (ha!) in a real jobs program. I also wish that more was said about the barriers to job creation that are built up in our economy. In all, I got about half of what I wanted, and I’ll take it.
Republicans: The main Republican argument was that we needed even more on jobs and that we wasted a year putzing around. I actually tend to agree with that. More than just agreeing with it, I am absolutely delighted that Republicans are talking about job creation. That means that something may happen. When the Republicans talk job creation, they usually mean tax breaks – but if we can steer that towards reduction in payroll and payroll-related taxes we could have a big win for job creation. What matters most is that the Republicans are interested in a populist issue whether they show fear in their eyes or not.
Serious: If there was one thing that Obama wanted to get across, it was that the situation was dire but he was on it. He didn’t talk about Depressions or any of the other scary things, but he injected a much needed tone of seriousness into the debate without causing panic. That’s the most important thing he had to do. He turned his biggest weakness, the TARP bailout, into a sure sign of strength that showed he was both willing to do what he had to but serious that we weren’t gonna be ripped off. That was what worked best – and will stay with us the longest.
Exports: I didn’t get this part at all. I had the feeling that his administration wants to do something to help create manufacturing jobs but has no idea what the Hell they are talking about. That scared me a little. Do they understand that about the only serious way to increase exports is to lower the value of the US dollar, but they’re afraid to let that happen? This could reveal a bit internal rift.
Other Stuff: I didn’t care about all the other stuff, and I’ll bet no one did. Yes, this was a State of the Union Address and that means you have to mention how we’re doin’ just about every way there is. He’s covered the wars in better detail elsewhere, and that’s just fine.
What did I learn from this address? That Obama is taking an inside and bureaucratic approach to being our nation’s top manager, working down his “To Do” list of fires that need to be put out. I expect a little more in the way of appearances to bolster his populist image for a while, but I do not see a major public role over the long haul. His agenda is about fixing what’s wrong in Washingtoon, which is badly needed and long overdue. Whether or not it’s actually working will be hard to judge from the outside, meaning that he’ll need that patience he tried to instill in the public.
I’m patient. I took two days to think this over before I criticized the speech. Let’s see what happens in the next year before we get too excited.