January 28, 2010

Take It to the Floor of Congress, Look into the Core of Rotten

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the State of the Union last night. Certainly, President Obama's ability as an orator was never in doubt, but it was heartening that he didn't take the "Clinton and school uniforms" approach of abandoning his major initiatives, but instead tacked on ideas like the spending freeze to his calls for financial regulation, clean energy, and health care reform. Taking a jaunty, defiant tone also helped him recast the narrative from one of "spineless Democrats" to one of "obstructionist Republicans," which was heartening, no doubt, to many liberals.

Having said that, as Larry David might put it, the details of Obama's speech are still troubling, and no amount of great rhetoric can change that. Health care is still alive, but there was no deadline and no rejection of a watered-down version of reform. Clean energy is still alive -- Obama's call for a "comprehensive" climate and energy bill is obvious code for cap-and-trade -- but so much of the energy section of his speech was devoted to sops to nuclear, coal, and offshore oil drilling, it was clear who has the upper hand in the argument. Financial reform is still alive, but the measures Obama's proposed aren't enough, frankly to limit the corrosive influence of the banks on the rest of the economy. And all of these proposals are still hostage to the Senate filibuster.

Then there's the question of the effectiveness of the stimulus and what to do about unemployment in the next year: Obama acknowledged that the stimulus, while effective to an extent, hasn't reversed the awful jobs situation, and that more efforts are necessary. But the proposals he outlined are pretty small-bore, for the most part. Not that small-bore isn't worthwhile -- I especially liked his call to further reform student lending -- but the unemployment situation is bigger and likely more intractable than the administration seems to realize, even as the economy grows. Hence Obama's spending freeze proposal, while not the centerpiece of the agenda, still clashes with the imperative to get people back to work.

I could comment a lot more on the speech, but I'll just say that it seems to have put an end to the temporary meltdown of the Democrats after losing the Massachusetts special election. In other words, it's brought us back to the status quo ante -- which was not a great place to be to begin with.

Title fixed.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. From 2009 address to Congress (couldn't find a CC version of the 2010 SOTU).

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