Barack Obama addressed a joint session of congress on Tuesday night to outline more economic proposals and to present an agenda that included cutting the deficit in half in four years, energy initiatives and health care reform. But the first thing that comes to mind is, why another speech?
Obama is now undoubtedly in the Guinness Book of World Records for speeches made by a President in his first 30 days in office. That shouldn't surprise anyone. Based on his previous 12 years in elected office making speeches is the only thing he has shown he knows how to do. Or even likes to do. And as always the media eats it up.Media like the Philadelphia Inquirer whose editorial board called Obama's politically motivated speech on race Lincolnesque and is now filing for bankruptcy. Hopefully there is no symbolism in that.
As has been widely reported, all the initiatives put in place since his election were drawn up by Pelosi and the Democrats in the House with zero input from Obama. He had about as much input into what went into the Stimulus Bill as I did. But what Obama is there for, and probably why Pelosi and many Democrats wanted Obama over Clinton, is,Obama really has no initiatives of his own and is a willing front man for the programs and policies Pelosi wants to sell. Many of the traditional Democratic initiatives are good ones. But so far, Pelosi's hand in the writing of the TARP and the Democratic bailout money for Detroit have been failures. Pelosi's first attempt at the TARP was so bad 95 Democrats voted against it and it had to be redone.And GM laid off 10,000 workers in spite of the billions they received in taxpayer bailout money, have come back for more and might file for bankruptcy anyway.
So when in doubt, give a speech. Afterwards there were the usual loaded questions used by pollsters to get reactions, most notably the stupid question, "did you feel more optimistic or pessimistic after hearing Obama's speech"? Well why would anyone be pessimistic about that speech? You only start feeling pessimistic when you look at Obama's 12 year record and become aware of his history of reneging or not following through on just about every promise he ever made as an elected official or candidate.
Aside from that, like all his speeches it was superficial, trite when trying to sound profound ("we will rebuild") tried to find new ways of saying what everyone already knows, was endlessly repetitive ( "we need to act boldly and swiftly") lacked details, and gave the usual politician's slice of life anecdotes. The speech did get in a few appropriate digs at the Republicans,George Bush and the mess they made of everything. But while David Gergen at CNN ( the people that keep telling us every five minutes they are the best political team on television ) gushed over the speech and how it was the most "ambitious" agenda of any President he can remember, there one very important point everyone missed. How is he going to accomplish all that?
During the primary he promised to vote against the FISA bill if it contained retroactive immunity. Then he voted for it. He promised to filibuster the FISA bill if it looked like it had enough votes to pass. He never did. He told the people of Ohio he was going to get rid of NAFTA if elected and then had an emissary go to the Canadian embassy and tell them to ignore what Obama was saying publicly, it was just politics and he'll never get rid of NAFTA. He promised and actually signed a written pledge to use only public financing in the Presidential election if he were the nominee but as soon as he became the nominee, he tore up the pledge, reneged on his promise, and took as much money as he could from the very lobbyists and corporations he attacked Clinton for taking contributions from. So how do we know this wasn't another shovel ready speech from Obama?
The country surely needs to reverse everything the Republicans did the last 8 years which is really all Obama was talking about. These aren't ideas, this is throwing out the garbage which needs to be done. Getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the highest income brackets, acknowledging global warming, having energy independence which has been talked about for years, and doing health care reform are all Democratic initiatives that have been proposed for years and ignored by Republicans who don't believe in any of them. But if someone asks how is Obama going to accomplish all these things which were hard enough when the economy was in good shape much less in the crisis it's in now, the answer is, its unrealistic.
Obama has already slipped some sleight of hand into his promise to create 3 1/2 million jobs. Now its create or save 3 1/2 million jobs.But how do you know if you've saved a job? You don't. It can never be accurately measured. But by throwing in the word "save", if the job creation doesn't meet the promise, Obama can always come back and say he might not have created 3 million jobs but he saved them. Except there will be no way anyone will be able to prove that.
Obama's speech, except for giving the news media something to talk about, accomplished nothing. It was, like his renting Invesco Field to give his acceptance speech, totally unnecessary. All that will matter is whether the Democratic proposals Obama is out there selling will work. The country needs health care reform and energy independence. They need to get rid of waste and the no bid contracts that gave Cheney's old company, Haliburton, a windfall. It needs to get rid of the tax breaks from the Bush years. Getting rid of agricultural subsidies to farmers who don't need them is another good thing to do. But how is Obama going to accomplish everything else he promised in his speech? The saving grace is that with Obama, there are really a slew of Co- Presidents behind the scenes with Obama as the front man. Unfortunately Pelosi is one of those Co-Presidents and given that she was instrumental in rigging the Democratic Primary process and convention to get Obama the nomination, she is going to have the kind of influence with Obama she'd never have with Clinton. And so far the legislation she has already pushed through hasn't worked. So as to how Obama will fulfill the promises he made in his speech, the worry is, they will be fulfilled the same way he fullfilled his promises to vote against the FISA bill, get rid of NAFTA, and run his campaign on public financing.
Obama is essentially an empty vessel. The easily impressed, which is to say people who spend most of their time around politicians who all sound alike, are impressed with Obama's speeches. Based on the Democratic Primary results about half aren't. Obama as the empty vessel is being filled with Democratic initiatives which he is being sent out to sell, most of which I agree with. But the economic crisis does not call for policy it calls for ideas and solutions. Right now the only thing that matters is whether they will work. And no Obama speech is going to make that happen.