Will The State Of The Union Address Matter After This Week?

Obama SOTU

I certainly liked Obama’s State of the Union Address while listening to it. In a room dominated by Republicans, Obama was once again the adult in the room–the sensible one interested in governing and not bogged down in extremist ideology. His economic numbers provided real evidence of success, despite Republican obstructionism, and Obama was right in addressing the need to extend the benefits of economic recovery to more in the middle class.

The question is whether the speech, and Obama’s aggressiveness on policy matters, will make a difference matters beyond this week. David Corn summed up some of my concerns:

Barack Obama is very good at getting elected president (two for two!) and pretty darn good at policy (Obamacare; the stimulus; the auto industry rescue; Wall Street reform; ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Cuba; immigration reform executive action; dumping DOMA; middle-class tax cuts; new EPA limits on emissions that cause climate change; banning torture; downsizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and killing Osama bin Laden). But there’s one key piece of the job description where he’s fallen short: shaping the ongoing political narrative of the nation.

The president is the country’s storyteller in chief. And despite his inspiring powers of oratory (see Campaign 2008) and his savvy understanding of the importance of values in political salesmanship (see Campaign 2012), Obama, as his aides concede, has not effectively sold the nation on his own accomplishments, and, simultaneously, he has failed to establish an overarching public plot line that explains the gridlock in Washington as the result of GOP obstructionists blocking him on important issues where public opinion is in his favor. With his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama had one last chance to take a swing at forging this narrative. Though he did adopt a muscular stance in presenting a forceful and vigorous vision—going on offense in the fourth quarter of his presidency, as his advisers have put it—the president let the Republicans off easy.

Throughout his presidency, as the GOP has consistently sought to block him, Obama has responded inconsistently. He often has pleaded for reason and looked to craft a deal—frequently (and justifiably) to prevent a hit to the economy. (This was the adult-in-the-room strategy.) At times, he has praised House Speaker John Boehner, while pointing to Boehner’s tea party wing as the cause of the partisan paralysis. And then he has occasionally—but not too often—flashed anger and slammed Republicans for being irresponsible and reckless (the debt ceiling scuffle, the assorted government shutdown showdowns). He has not presented a steady and stark tale in which he stars as the fighter for the middle- and lower-income Americans who are stymied repeatedly by always-say-no Republicans aligned with plutocrats, the gun lobby, corporate polluters, and other foes of progress. Consequently, he has often borne blame for the sluggish economy and the mess in Washington, with the Democratic Party paying the price for the dips in his approval rating.

For this to have meaning, Obama must stick to pushing his views, and the Democratic Party must be there behind him. The reaction of the Democratic Party has been even more inconsistent than Obama’s. Here’s what I thought during the speech:

Of course the general election is an entirely different ballgame than the midterms, and Democrats who thought there was benefit in running as Republican-lite in a midterm election where the big contests were in the red states might act more boldly. Or maybe not.

On the other hand, maybe we should just be happy that Obama had a good speech, the positive results from his policies are real, and that the speech was well accepted. Beyond that, I’m not sure that a State of the Union address ever really matters all that much.

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10 Comments

  1. 1
    David Duff says:

    ” His [Obama’s] major reform was an increase in capital gains tax from 23pc to 28pc. Since he became President, the rate has been steadily increased from 15pc to a level that is now similar to, or more than, most high-tax European countries including the UK. Unlike the UK, however, there is no special rate for entrepreneurs, so anyone starting up a business is likely to see a third of the wealth they create confiscated by the government. […]

    But now, the rate of start-up is plummeting. In 2014, for the first time in a generation, the number of businesses closing down in the US was greater than the number starting up – 400,000 new enterprises were created last year, but 470,000 shut down, according to figures from the US Census Bureau. The rate of start-up has been declining for a decade now, so that while back in 2005 an additional 100,000 new firms were being born every year, now there is a net loss of 70,000 annually, and that number is rising relentlessly every year. The US now ranks only 12th in the developed world for start-ups,”

    Suivez les Français!  And see how well it’s done for them!

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/11360315/Barack-Obama-is-shattering-the-competiveness-of-the-US-economy.html

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    More right wing pseudo-economics. Right wingers commonly claim that tax increases on the wealthy will have consequences which do not hold up, along with nonsensical trickle down arguments for benefits which are not seen. The fact is that Obama’s increase will only affect the top 5% and has no meaningful impact upon those who start up businesses.

    It is Republican pseudo-economics which is hindering our economy.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Plus keep in mind the data which you posted in another recent comment which showed that the problem preceded Obama and worsened under Bush.

    There is no getting around the fact that business always has done better under Democrats than Republicans. Capitalism will always do better than Republican plutocracy.

  4. 4
    David Duff says:

    The fact is that Obama’s increase will only affect the top 5% and has no meaningful impact upon those who start up businesses.”

    But it does – and it has!  That is why the number of close downs now exceed the number of new openings.  And do try and overcome your insularity, Ron, the French have tried all that and the result has been disastrous.  I kid you not, there are now ‘French quarters’ in London filled not only with the wealthy trying to escape Hollande’s taxes but with youngsters desperately seeking jobs.

    Pause and ask yourself what motivates rich people, and then ask yourself why on earth they would stay in, say, Detroit, running a factory when their taxes are being bumped higher and higher?  What would you do? Sell up or close down, of course, and retire to the Bahamas!

    Yes, sometimes business has doen better under Dems – Bill Clinton was one – but only when the GOP controlled the Congress and he sensibly cut a deal.

  5. 5
    David Duff says:

    Sorry, I appear to have repeated myself!

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    What is it about conservatives and France? Their policies have nothing to do with this.

    The economy always has done better under Democrats, and that has nothing to do with the GOP Congress under Clinton. Rich people are not going to close down their plants and stop working due to these tax increases.Taxes remain quite low under Obama. Plus most of the tax increases are not hitting business owners.

  7. 7
    David Duff says:

    And now I haven’t – what’s going on? – I haven’t even had a drink tonight!

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I deleted one of two identical comments. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that you have been drinking too much. 🙂

  9. 9
    David Duff says:

    It’s got EVERYTHING to do with this!  Pres. Hollande ramped up taxes on the wealthy and simultaneously increased social benefits, early retirement rules and earlier payment of State pensions.  All the things that you and Obama are so keen on.  The result is a disaster.  For goodness sake, get real and check the financial press on the state of La not-so-Belle France!

    As for your country, before you begin your slow but inexorable decline, try checking what your national debt stands at today!

    On the day that President Obama took office in 2009, the Debt Held by the Public was $6.3T. On January 2, 2015 that debt was in excess of $13T. So during the first six years of the Obama presidency the hard debt of the federal government more than doubled.”

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    We are talking about quite different levels of taxes and social benefits.

    If you are concerned about the national debt, remember the words of Dick Cheney, “deficits don’t matter.”

    Republicans are responsible for running up the debt. The increase under Obama is largely due to having to pay for the bills run up under Bush, along with tax breaks for the wealthy which were designed to have the maximum impact after Bush left office.

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