An ‘Ambitious’ Yet Pointless State Of The Union, And An Utterly Pointless Response
The State Of The Union Address was more of the same, and the same will be true of Washington going forward.
Last night’s State of the Union Address was about what everyone expected it would be. The President set a broad, ambitious agenda that Congress will promptly ignore, Republicans put out another sacrificial lamb to tackle the worst job in America, and, after reading through the speech, it became clear that my instinct to skip the speech altogether was the right idea after all.
The New York Times characterized the President’s speech as “ambitious” and his tone as “defiant”:
WASHINGTON — President Obama claimed credit on Tuesday for an improving economy and defiantly told his Republican adversaries in Congress to “turn the page” by supporting an expensive domestic agenda aimed at improving the fortunes of the middle class.
Released from the political constraints of a sagging economy, overseas wars and elections, Mr. Obama declared in his sixth State of the Union addressthat “the shadow of crisis has passed,” and he vowed to use his final two years in office fighting for programs that had taken a back seat.
He called on Congress to make community college free for most students, enhance tax credits for education and child care, and impose new taxes and fees on high-income earners and large financial institutions.
We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Mr. Obama said in an hourlong address to a joint session of Congress seen by an estimated 30 million people. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Confident and at times cocky, the president used the pageantry of the prime-time speech for a defense of an activist federal government. He vowed to continue a foreign policy that combines “military power with strong diplomacy,” and he called on Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba and pass legislation authorizing the fight against the Islamic State.
He said approval of a resolution granting him that power — something he has long argued he does not need to carry out the five-month-old campaign — would send an important signal. “Tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission,” Mr. Obama said. “We need that authority.”
“This effort will take time,” he said of the battle to defeat the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that is also known as ISIS or ISIL. “It will require focus. But we will succeed.”
Mr. Obama met a skeptical but respectful Congress hours after vowing to veto Republican legislation that would restrict abortion and speed the approval of natural gas pipelines, the latest in a series of veto threats that reflect his eagerness to confront conservative ideology.
Mr. Obama’s plans — which would offer free community college for millions of students, paid leave for workers and more generous government assistance for education, child care and retirement savings for the middle class — are to be financed in large part by $320 billion in tax increases over the next decade on higher income earners as well as a fee on large financial institutions.
The tax plan would raise the top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent, from 23.8 percent. It would also remove what amounts to a tax break for wealthy people who can afford to hold on to their investments until death. Mr. Obama also said he wanted to assess a new fee on the largest financial institutions — those with assets of $50 billion or more — based on the amount of risk they took on.
Those proposals would pay for the community college initiative, which would cost $60 billion over a decade, as well as an array of new tax credits intended for the middle class. They include a new $500 credit for families with two working spouses; a subsidy of up to $2,500 annually to pay for college; and the tripling, up to $3,000, of an existing tax break to pay for college.
“It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or as a women’s issue,” Mr. Obama said, “and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”
The Washington Post, meanwhile, emphasized the President taking credit for progress he claims to have made in the last six years, and Republicans pushing back with their new found power:
President Obama, who took office six years ago amid a historic recession and two U.S. wars, declared unequivocally Tuesday that the nation had clawed its way out of those dire straits, praising Americans for their resilience but also pointedly taking credit for leading the way.
“America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed,” Obama said in his sixth State of the Union address to the nation and a joint session of Congress in the House chamber.
After years of fighting with Republicans over where to take the country, Obama delivered an hour-long defense of his policies that at times sounded like a victory lap. He asserted that the brightening economic picture — including accelerating job growth, more people with health insurance and lower gas prices — had proved that he was right, and his adversaries misguided, all along.
On Wednesday, he was headed to Idaho, a deep-red state he hasn’t visited since becoming president, to follow up on his speech as Republicans pushed back against his agenda.
The president had been cautious over the past two years not to gloat over news of fitful economic growth, mindful that the economy remained tenuous and public confidence uneasy. But with the jobless rate well below 6 percent, the stock market nearing record highs and his job-approval ratings rebounding, Obama on Tuesday night dropped his veneer of reserve and appeared to delight in having proved his critics wrong.
“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious, that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” he said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health-care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”
“So the verdict is clear,” Obama said.
At times Tuesday, Obama chided Republicans to help improve Washington’s political discourse. He harked back to the themes of national unity that helped him get elected in the first place in 2008 and called for more bipartisan cooperation on key issues.
But in doing so, Obama also served to remind the GOP of the reasons their relationship is so fraught — pausing at one point from his prepared text to deliver a spontaneous, and quite partisan, barb. When Republicans jokingly applauded after Obama noted that he had run his last campaign, the president quipped: “I know because I won both of them.”
In other words, this was pretty much a standard Barack Obama State of the Union Address, ambitious plans, soaring rhetoric, and a sprinkling of proposals that most likely will never actually see the light of day never mind get a vote by the current Congress. On some level, the President and his advisers have to know this themselves. After all, you don’t get to work at the high levels of the White House staff without being able to recognize the political reality of what complete Republican control of Congress for the last two years of a two-term Presidency means. And yet the President spent a good part of his speech proposing an agenda that he has to know is unlikely to see the light of day, not just because of the partisan makeup of Congress, but also because whomever ends up being the Democratic nominee for President next year, and thus the de facto head of the Democratic Party going forward, is going to have their own policy priorities and their own agenda and, most importantly, is going to have to respond to the problems facing the nation at the world at the time they are center stage. The ideas put forward by a lame duck President two years earlier are pretty much going to have been tossed into dustbin of history, most likely never to be seen again. On some level, of course, this is part of the natural effort that any two-term President makes to appear to remain relevant to the political debate even as they slip into the twilight years of their Presidency, and to attempt to have some say in the direction of the country beyond the threat of using the Veto pen. It’s entirely understandable, but that doesn’t make any of it any more politically dead on arrival than it actually is. Obviously, things might be different if the President’s party still had some power on Capitol Hill — although even then, we are at the point now where Democrats are beginning to think more about the 2016 election than what can be accomplished over the next two years — but in the current political reality the President’s list of goals for the coming year is pretty much the political equivalent of the kid with all the cool toys on his Christmas list who will end up with socks and pajamas under the tree on Christmas morning.
If the State of the Union address is largely a waste of time, the still recent practice of the opposing party’s response to that address is even more of one, Invariably, it ends up being a thankless task more likely to lead to embarrassment for the person giving the speech and,, this year, the thankless task was handed to new Iowa Senator Joni Ernst:
There was no talk of castrating hogs in Joni Ernst’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. And there wasn’t a water bottle in sight.
Instead, the freshman Republican senator from Iowa delivered a straightforward, almost mechanical speech calling for bipartisanship in Congress. She told viewers—and President Obama—that “there’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.”
Ernst, the official, smiling face of the GOP Tuesday night, was sworn into the Senate a mere two weeks ago. But during her campaign in a tight midterm race last year, she made her mark as the face of a reimagined Republican Party—at least, the goal of a GOP reimagining. She’s the first woman ever elected to Congress from Iowa, and also the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate—she was in the U.S. Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard for 21 years.
Invoking her own humble upbringing in rural Iowa, Ernst recalled having to wrap her “one good pair of shoes” in plastic bread bags to protect them on rainy days. Though her parents didn’t have much, she said, they “worked hard for what they did have.” She lamented that families today have “less and less to show for” their hard work.
“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs,” she told viewers in a brief address. “We see the hurt caused by canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills.”
Drawing on the GOP’s big win in November’s midterm elections, Ernst said the party heard the country “loud and clear” when voters elected a wave of Republicans and put the party in control of both chambers of Congress. And though she generally stuck to a conciliatory tone when referring to Obama, she alluded to the president’s promised veto of the controversial Keystone pipeline as an example of obstruction to a “serious job-creation” proposal.
“President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it,” Ernst said. “The president’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.”
Highlighting her military experience, Ernst delivered the speech from the Senate Armed Services Committee room, having joined the committee at the start of the new Congress. Even her shoes fit the message: She rocked arguably chic camo heels for the occasion.
The SASC room, Ernst said, “is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by al-Qaida, ISIL, and those radicalized by them.” Giving her condolences to victims in France, Nigeria, Australia, and Canada, she called for a “comprehensive plan to defeat” terrorists.
Some of the commentary I heard this morning called Ernst’s deliver “wooden,” and I can see where that is coming from after having watched a bit of the speech itself, but on the whole it seems that Senator Ernst did about as good a job as you could expect in this situation. To the extent the delivery was “wooden,” I suppose that can be blamed on the fact that she was reading it off of a teleprompter which she likely isn’t as used to as more experienced public speakers. Beyond that, though, there really isn’t anything about the speech that stands out, which is perhaps the best that Ernst could have hoped for under the circumstances. When it comes to a speech like this, the less that people are talking about it, the better. In any event, with this ceremonial nonsense out of the way Washington can get down to what it does best which, judging by the last ten years or so, basically involves both political parties yelling at each other while not actually accomplishing anything.
Again you miss the political and main point of the speech. It wouldn’t matter if the GOP gave President Obama nothing he asked for the next two years. If he is the one framing the argument/ideas, ideas that are widely popular by the way, then the GOP will be left to do one of two things. They will have to explain why they are against it and/or will have to provide an alternative, which I can assure you will not be popular! If this success is sustained, you can bet the Democrats will use the same rhetoric in their campaigns come 2016.
It’s all about presentation. I wonder if the Prez deliberately considers how to use the SOTU to let the people see Boehner sit there looking surly and mean-spirited while he speaks about equal wages for women and equal rights for LGBT.
Are Republicans so lacking in intellectual firepower that they cannot respond to the SOTU, but deliver instead some pablum written a month ago?
And of course, there was the epic trolling of the GOP, by getting them to give their biggest applause of the night for the fact the he is not running again, and then reminding them that’s because he won both times.
I’ve seen this observation several places this morning and OTB seems a little empty without it: How loud would the Repubs have been cheering if Pres Romney had been giving the SOTU and bragging about the same economy?
The entire point of the Democrats positions is to be able to blame the Republicans in the future. If the Republicans did not approve something, then they keep something good from happening. If the Democrats concede some point to the Republicans, then they will be the reason for failure. However, if something success or something good happens despite what the Democrats have done, then the Democrats get to take all of the credit.
People who have analyzed the government paying for community college for all or for determining what everyone should be paid had seen as of the potential downsides. That is why the Democrats love to make proposals that sound great in soundbytes but are usually a nightmare to administer.
Sorry, I missed the speech last night, I was looking for my bread bags, I needed to go to the store.
What is most interesting and the least noted is that the Democrats are letting the U.S. know that the one party state will be here within a couple of decades and they are willing to wait until it happens. In a one party state, politics will be about entitlements, how pays for them, and who gets them. The Democrats have found a way to spread the new entitlement spending across a large portion of the population while trying to stick a small portion of the population with the costs.
President Obama and the Democrats know that the Republicans will never hold the White House again and that politics is at a stalemate until the Democrats regain control of the U.S. House sometime after 2020.
Yeah…I wouldn’t count on that. More likely we’ll be hearing about these ideas for years to come.
For instance, polls consistently show support for an increase in the minimum wage. Obama’s lame duckness influences that not at all. If Republicans would like to see that one in the “dustbin of history” they’ll need to come up with a better alternative to an increase….or they’ll have to increase the minimum wage.
I will agree, though, that the GOP response was rather pointless.
Q: Are Republicans so lacking in intellectual firepower that they cannot respond to the SOTU, but deliver instead some pablum written a month ago?
Doug like most conservatives, seems petulant that the President didn’t slink to the podium and meekly admit defeat. Instead the President wrongfooted them:
Doug somehow thinks the SOTU should be about-well, I don’t know what really, -and gets butt hurt that it doesn’t conform to his pre-conceptions. Meanwhile, Obama is setting out the Democratic agenda for the next two years and for 2016.
I think that all SOTU responses are meaningless. I managed to hold out for about 30 seconds before turning it off.
It was fun watching Obama’s new-found love of the working class. I wonder where he’s been the last six years?
DON’T FORGET: Income inequality got worse under Obama–but hey, that was a great speech,
The New York Times: “Income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades, but the trend appears to have accelerated during the Obama administration.”
The average income of the top 1 percent grew by 11.2 percent in real terms since 2009. The bottom 99 percent saw their incomes decrease by 0.4 percent.
All Hail Zero.
Yeah, it’s amazing how the 2nd largest financial catastrophe in a nation’s history can really mess with inequality, isn’t it?
I win, having neither watched the speech nor written a 2200+ word, blog post about what I missed.
Can you explain which of Obama’s actions has led to increased inequity? Please be specific.
Doug, seriously, WTF?
Yesterday, you were all…
So, based on your distain expressed for the political event specifically mandated by our Constitution… well, I figured you would be off reading Red State or some other like-minded source of disinformation.
But today, you are all like…
So, there you were telling us not to participate in the event … while you decided to do so…
Or, you skipped the event, and chose to act as an aggregator of information that reflects your already preconceived notions. (Looks like a whole lotta quotes makes up YOUR opinion there, Doug.)
You may say “libertarian”, Doug… but you are starting to act more and more like Fox News.
Finally, what do we get from the GOP? Pipeline, abortion, and Let Them Wear Bread Bags.
Oh, yeah! THAT’s a platform to get behind, and a vision for the future I can embrace.
This is one of those “cool kids” things that is just so dumb.
Yes, the SOTU matters because we have these things called “voters” and these related things called “donors” and both voters and donors watch the show and are moved one way or the other. Maybe not a lot, maybe just a little, but moved nonetheless.
We also have these things called “ideas” which – this will shock some of you – have a relationship both with voters and with competing or supportive ideas. These ideas may not involve a position paper or a piece of legislation, and yet they may prove powerful. I’ll give you an example: a few weeks ago the “idea” was that Mr. Obama was done and Mr.Boehner was boss. And now that idea has been replaced by the idea of a strangely empowered president.
Here’s another idea: that the crisis years are over. Can you see how that idea might change the political math? Because if you can’t, don’t attempt political analysis.
Ideas expressed in speeches sometimes matter. Last night’s speech mattered. The cool kids who didn’t watch it are now just a wee bit more clueless.
They are even more intellectually bankrupt than I would have thought. The solution to everything? A pipe. Just amazing. The GOP are zombies, and not the fast 28 Days Later kind, either.
@Liberal Capitalist: And what was the underlying message of her family’s story? “My grandparents lived hard, crappy lives because they were poor… and my parents lived hard, crappy lives because they were poor… but here I am decades later and I’m successful. So don’t worry, Americans, no matter how lousy we make your lives, many years after you’re dead, your descendents may be okay.”
Yeah…I can see why a Republican water carrier, like Doug, would find that pointless. There were many “points”to that speech. Failure to find a single one speaks volumes.
More importantly….what was the point of the 5 Republican responses? The Keystone Pipeline? Seriously?
Doesn’t she know that reading from a teleprompter is forbidden by Republican puditry? Or is that just for black people?
To be fair, what’s the appropriate response? “We realize there are big problems, but we prefer to build a pipeline from Canada and cancel your health coverage”
They really, really, really, really, really want that pipeline.
If they get a pipeline Jesus will descend from Heaven and give all rich people tax cuts plus slaughter some Muslims.
Can’t wait to see the Republican platform at the next convention. It’ll be just one word: pipeline.
I really don’t care that much about the pipeline…it seems like a symbolic thing. It’ll break one day and spill some oil and Republicans will protect the Oil Companies from any liability. No surprises to be found there.
But I cannot for the life of me figure out small government Republicans getting their panties so friggin’ damp over stealing property from US Citizens and gifting it to a Foreign Corporation.
I don’t care about the pipeline one way or the other, but I think now we need to block it, because apparently it’s the entire GOP agenda. One stop shopping for obstruction.
I love that Doug brought in sources as varied and fresh as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
As for the reply, simply sending a fresh-faced member of your party to read a stump speech isn’t enough. It’s a terrible proposition, the reply to the State of the Union address, but if you’re going to do it, you should do it right. Sit down with the film of the last few dozen speeches, and look at what doesn’t work about them. It’s a unique situation, a speech without an audience given in the setting of your choice – mix it up. Or put an audience in the room. Provide graphics. Do something to keep it from being mechanical and boring.
@anjin-san: Can you explain which of Obama’s action led to lower gasoline prices? No? Well, he took credit for that.
This administration takes credit for everything “good” that happens and stiff arms everything “bad” that happens.
@michael reynolds: I kind of doubt it’s a big deal to Obama either. But if it’s so important to the GOPs, he should certainly force them to bargain for it. Maybe a $10, inflation adjusted, national minimum wage would be a fair price.
So you made a claim you can’t back up?
The only thing that works is to go live and unscripted, to actually respond. But if you’ve ever watched these featherweights on the Senate floor stumble and mumble and babble their way through a ten minute speech they could have delivered in thirty seconds, you’ll understand why no one has the balls to do it.
Instead what we got was a tonal acceptance of the president’s announcement that the bad old days are over, followed by bags on the feet and a bizarre obsession with a pipeline. Ernst’s speech could not have been better at trivializing the GOP. The President wants healthcare, child care, tax cuts, free college and a future. The GOP wants a pipeline.
@Jack: So you’ve got no answer on Anjin’s question –
@David M: My link backs up my claim. Read the link.
@Jack: ” Can you explain which of Obama’s action led to lower gasoline prices? No? Well, he took credit for that.”
Well, the Republicans — including, I expect, you — blamed him for high prices, so by Republican thinking he is responsible for the lower ones as well. I mean, if you ever hope to have any credibility on any subject.
So I guess that’s a no for you.
That would be a nice start. Then he gives a speech saying he thinks forcing Americans off their land for a foreign pipeline is a bad idea, but the Republicans have forced it on him, and he’s getting an increased wage in exchange. Let the next GOP presidential candidate run on that.
@wr: Loser says what?
Wouldn’t that require, at the minimum, some sort of an idea besides a pipe?
@C. Clavin: Of course not.
Every prediction made by the wing-nuts has been proven wrong.
So now they are going to blame inequality on Obama.
@C. Clavin: Yeah, because the New York Times is a well know bastion for carrying the GOP and Wing-nut water.
Obama ball washer says, what?
Another good thing from the speech: he buried that moronic evasion line, “I’m not a scientist.”
Even if Obama didn’t say anything else of note, the speech would be worth it for that.
In which Jack tries to pull a childish prank…that requires the prankster to say something rapidly…so that the prank-ee has to say “what?”…at which point hilarity ensues. If you are 6.
Only Jack tried typing it in a comments section of a website.
You are all doubled over in fits of laughter, aren’t you? Aren’t you?
The Times said:
You are the wing-nut that blamed the widening gap on Obama.
Only you cleverly called him Zero.
Here we have a right-wing internet troll pushing the Occupy Wall Street agenda. How excellent is that?
Do you even read your own links? You must think President Obama is responsible for the austerity measures.
Let’see what else is in that NYT article you cite:
So apparently, the expert in article doesn’t cite Administration policy as a possible reason for the rise in inequality. But he does does cite austerity. Guess which party has been hell bent on cutting spending and blocking any and all attempts to stimulate the economy through infrastructure and jobs programs?
Do you actually read your links, mate?
EDIT: Someone beat me to it. Great minds think alike 😉
Ezra Klein over at Vox makes an outstanding observation:
The entire post here:
It’s true…If Obama were a Republican his face would already be chiseled onto Mt. Rushmore.
@C. Clavin: I’m surprised you can speak considering how far your lips are up Obozo’s ass.
Not to be pedantic, but he even put a comma before “what,” ensuring the reader deliberately pauses, hence ruining amy lingering effect.
Essentially Jack has completely failed in ever way possible.
No one is denying that the pace of inequity is accelerating. We want to know why you think Obama is to blame.
You’ve shown you can cut & paste a link, and that Obama seems to fill your mind with homo-erotic thoughts. Do you have anything else to contribute?
Didn’t you read Doug’s post? That explanation was pointless.
No biggie – it only confirms that most of these commentators choose to educate themselves, rather than be someone who chooses to send links without reading them.
@Neil Hudelson: Aw, Neil. Are you feeling left out?
@stonetools: My post simply stated that “Income inequality got worse under Obama. in response to a president who pretends to be looking out for the middle class.
This president looks out for the middle class like Bill Clinton looked out for a woman’s right to not face sexual assault in the workplace.
So are you suggesting that President Obama’s approach for the middle class was/is too passive, as though he really didn’t care? Either way, you are wrong on both accounts and many here can pull up multiple saccounts of what actually happened in the past 6 years. Just cut the crap. There are many here much to intelligent to take the bullsh#$%!.
Then all you’re doing is making meaningless observations. Do you not understand why you actually need to identify the specific policies that are causing the income inequality?
Yet, they sat through the SOTU.
I’m sorry, the tea baggers are on the right.
I think it was everyone’s 401K recovered the value lost under Republicans. Or maybe it was when pre-existing conditions became moot. Or maybe it was the millions who gained insurance coverage. Or maybe it was the stimulus that saved or created 2M jobs. Or maybe it was when he preserved Bush’s tax cuts to the middle class. Or maybe it was when he got their kids out of pointless wars. I mean…those things all devastated the middle class.
Well, his ideology is a failure, and last night’s standard bearer for his failed ideology was weird, wooden, patronizing and would not stop smiling as she completely failed to make a case for anything other than bread bags.
Jack is just working with the material he has. He doesn’t read the articles he links to because he knows nothing from any reputable source will support his inane views. He resorts to childish games done badly because… Maybe he’s one of those low information voters?
Jack has an ideology? I doubt that. I think he’s got a rattling emptiness into which talk radio drops a ball bearing which then rolls around for a while until it falls into a comment box.
“In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan. And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas….”
If true, this would represent the first time in his entire presidency when President Obama would have submitted a federal budget proposal by the statutorily required deadline.
So? How would that have mattered at all? That’s even dumber than the complaints about Congress not passing a budget resolution.
Actually, your one party state fantasies are not interesting at all. Boring and repetitive.
I’m sorry that some people have somewhat darker skin color, I know that it upsets you so, but they do not actually have identical political views, or act as a single monolithic horde, even if you cannot tell them apart. Even if the Republican Party were to collapse under the weight of their own ill-conceived policies, another party would quickly rise. We might be heading for a realignment of parties, once those scary dark people are the majority, but there will always be multiple parties vying for control. The Dark Party and the Darker Party, perhaps with the Darkest Party fielding candidates here and there.
Can we get some better conservative commenters? These ones are kind of lame.
@David M: So? How would that have mattered at all? That’s even dumber than the complaints about Congress not passing a budget resolution.
Just goes to show, you don’t care when Obumbler breaks the law.
You’re right of course, it was so much more fun watching outgoing president Bush hand-off an economy that was shedding jobs (many working class jobs) at a rate of over 700,000 per month.
Also, it was appalling that Obama supported the so-called bailout of the Auto Industry thereby pre-empting the probable loss of hundreds of thousands of working class auto industry jobs in Detroit and through out the Midwest.
The Republican Party proposed no measures to support the working class.
You still haven’t explained how Obama policies have hurt the middle class.
You just think he should go to jail for not putting a budget up that the House will never pass, while Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Hayden get off on War Crimes.
DON’T FORGET: A recent Republican president bequeathed the current president a financial catastrophe that resulted in the vaporization of nearly 25% of the wealth of the America’s households and businesses – about $18 trillion – plus the attendant loss of millions of jobs, and at the time of Obama’s inauguration in 2009 the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of over 700,000 per month. Since that time we’ve had over 50 consecutive months of steady economic growth, unemployment has dropped from 10% to under 6%, and the Republican predicted hyperinflation resulting from QE and deficit spending never, that’s right, never materialized.
Inequality in America has been widening since the 1970s – for the uninitiated, that is a long-term trend, not something that began in 2009.
@Jack: … Obozo…
I have not listened to the speech and I hesitate to read and listen to slanted reviews of both angles.
An important speech ? No.
As far as the war on terror – it will be going on long after Obama and his successor are gone, And like the “Cold War” against Russia and the Communist Bloc, it will be won when the terrorists and their evil philosophies are defeated by the forces of freedom.
Or, like the Cold War, when the price of oil gets so low their economy collapses.
What world do you live in???
I’ll play devil’s advocate on this one:
1. Capital Gains & Corporate Taxes: Obama, like his Democratic predecessors, supports continuing and even increasing taxes on capital gains and corporate income, and there are credible arguments from a number of mainstream economists that these taxes in particular reduce investment and economic growth, thus putting downward pressure on employment and wages.
2. Union Support: There are plausible arguments that the major labor unions artificially raised the cost of labor and limited the ability of companies (particularly in the manufacturing sector) to adjust to changing market realities as globalization ramped up in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, leading to a much harder landing when the status quo finally became unsustainable. That hard landing, in turn, contributed to inequality because it, obviously, disproportionately impacted the working and middle class. And before anyone counters by pointing out that higher union participation rates are correlated with higher wages and better benefits, note that the argument being made here concedes that point but identifies it as an unsustainable situation based on the unions’ politically-protected and legally-enforced distortions of the labor market. In any event, this one is admittedly more attributable to the Democratic party as a whole rather than Obama in particular, but Obama didn’t exactly make his bones bucking the party on this, so he gets his share of the blame.
3. Emphasis on College Degrees and Increased Financial Aid: Obama’s new emphasis on community college notwithstanding, he and the Democrats have long trumpeted the value of “going to college” (read: getting a Bachelors degree) and have pushed policies to increase financial aid for college students. It’s pretty widely recognized at this point that such policies have been a significant factor driving the increasing costs of higher education, and that for many people, the financial returns of a Bachelors Degree aren’t worth the debt load. So, as a very direct result of the Democrats’ policies, many working class and middle class people are starting off much further in debt and four years behind where they might otherwise have been with nothing but a largely useless (from a financial / career perspective) degree to show for it. The implications of that for long-term inequality are obvious.
4. Opposition to School Choice / Vouchers: Briefly stated, by opposing school choice and the vouchers to pay for them, Obama and the Democrats actively hinder poor families’ ability to get their kids the hell out of the sh*tty schools in their neighborhoods. As a result, millions of poor kids continue to be stuck in schools with lousy academics, high crime rates, and endemic poverty, thus perpetuating the same socio-economic isolation and stratification the Democrats’ claim to oppose.
5. Income Taxes on the Upper-Middle Class: Obama and the Democrats spend a lot of time talking about increasing taxes on “the rich” and “the wealthy”, but in reality, their tax plans invariably put the most pressure on folks in the upper-middle class – working professionals and small business owners in the $100-300k / year income range. These folks are obviously doing well compared to most of the country, but they’re also not what most people think of when they hear the words “rich” and “wealthy”. They generally have nicer stuff and more of a cushion to fall back on than those in the true middle class, but their lives and mindsets are pretty much the same – they tend to have a lot of debt; their financial goals revolve around putting their kids through college and saving for retirement; losing their job would be a financial disaster; etc. In short, they have relatively high incomes, but little wealth, so a significant medical event or an extended period of unemployment are all it takes to knock them back down the ladder. The truly rich/wealthy, meanwhile, can ride out such temporary financial setbacks with ease. Moreover, folks in the upper-middle are often first or second generation arrivals in their quintile, so when they do fall back, whole generations’ worth of familial upward mobility get wiped out. By putting a tax squeeze on the upper-middle class, Obama and the Democrats have made it that much more difficult for people to establish some actual long-term wealth, ensuring that the churn in the middle quintiles repeats every time we get an economic downturn, while the truly rich rarely have to worry about falling off their perch at the top.
6. Continuing the War on Drugs and Ignoring Sentencing & Prison Reform: Obama and the Democrats have given some lip service over the years to reforming drug policies and focusing more on non-custodial sentencing and prison reforms, but they never actually do anything about it. Their de facto approach has been to perpetuate the existing laws and systems that, probably more than any other single suite of policies, maintain the cycle of poverty and recidivism among the poorest people in the country and, in particular, in minority communities.
Not sure what you mean by “get off”. Both obvious meanings seem accurate.
Wow…you make some incredible claims of fact that do not hold up.
Really? Check the difference between incomes with a college degree v. a high school degree. Someone with a bachelor’s degree earns more than twice as much as those without a high school credential (105 percent more) and 57 percent more than someone with a high school degree. Hardly worthless. And what kind of career is available to the typical high school graduate?
I wish I had more time to debunk you on your other points…but gotta go right now.
@R.Dave: For once, an intelligent conservative perspective. I don’t have much time to respond to it now, but I think that your 6, and a point most liberals woud disagree with me, 3, are spot on. On some other items, you might have a theoretical point, but American reality does not support you (basically, both labor union density and level of taxation in the US of the last few decades is not enough to produce the effects you predict). Point 4 is very problematic, as there is very little evidence that vouchers would make any difference for educational outcomes, besides making it much easier for religious schools to stomp the First Amendment. Point five, on upper middle class taxes again makes sense in the abstract, but the level of taxation people who make over half a million dollars a year (the only group that suffered significant tax hikes) is low compared to both historical rates and international comparisons. The idea that Obama squeezed the upper middle class is simply wrong (even though creating new tax brackets separating the upper middle class from the rich, and the rich from the oligarchs would be a great idea).
Also, not to be nitpicky, the debate was about inequality, not about growth rates. Abolishing capital income taxes might, in theory, increase growth rates (but only if that decrease is deficit-funded), but it will also exacarbate inequality.
@R.Dave: And if you talked to some other tax policy experts, they would say that increasing capital gains tax and making taxes indifferent to the difference of income from capital vs. labor is the most important thing we should be doing.
After all, why in the heck should someone have his income be taxed at lower levels if he gets it off a pile of money bequeathed him by his parents while he’s lazing around being a trust-fund baby as opposed to someone whose income arises from him going out and actually digging ditches?
Not in my state.
We legalized pot last year and the Obama administration has done exactly nothing about it. Oh, save for allowing it to occur.
Just recently, Holder put the kibosh on civil asset forfeiture. Does that not count as reform?
Maybe you should have just left your list at 5.
@C. Clavin: The problem is correlation/causation. In essence, the problem with what you are saying is that there are plenty of jobs that could be filled by high school/ technical school grads that are now filled by college graduates. If person X spent years of his time and piled serious debt to get a job her mother filled after 2 years of professional school, than she is surely worse off than her mother, right?
Additionally, the federal policy of guaranteeing colleges 100 cent on the dollars repayment of every cent they charge from students, no matter the educational outcome is surely contributing to tuition inflation. Really, college loans is one of the few fields were conservative critiques of the system actually do make sense.
@grumpy realist: Yes. R. Dave is right that some economists argue that abolishing taxes on investment will create more growth. However,the predominant position in the field is that this constitutes the government picking winners and losers, and the optimal tax system taxes all income at exactly the same level.
First of all if you are playing devil advocate, you are doing much better than the usual right wing trolls here, so I applaud you for raising the level of the debate. Arguing against three year olds is amusing at first , but the enjoyment quickly palls.
As to 1, there are many equally reputable economists who argue that the bad effects of higher taxes are vastly overblown. Historically, I note that the years 1945-75 featured much higher marginal tax rates than today, and that era is now viewed as a golden area of prosperity, rising incomes, and decreasing inequality.
As to 2, there are again economists who say that the distorting effects of unionization are exaggerated, and who point the finger at the managers as the culprits responsible for the hard landing.
3. I think there is something here and I would have laid much more stress on German style apprenticeship programs, rather than the focus on college.( Not everyone is college material-some people are smart with their hands). Note that Obama’s free community college concept would go a long way towards alleviating the financial burden on the college bound.
4. The solution for bad public schools is better public schools, not creating a two tier school system.
5. The solution is higher taxes on the truly rich, which Obama just finished advocating for.
6. I think you are confusing President Barack Obama with Hal Jordan, who has a power ring that he can use to compel Congress to pass historic legislation that would reverse a decades long failed drug policy. Or maybe Merlin, who could cast a spell achieving the same. Here in the real world, PBO is starting to call off the War on Drugs, but there is plenty of opposition from the tough on crime crowd
I can’t address all those points, but a few are worth discussing:
1. For capital gains and corporate taxes, given how these policies already are an overwhelming benefit to the 1%, wouldn’t reducing them just make inequality worse? Any growth benefits wouldn’t be significant enough to make up for that disparity.
5. Income taxes on the upper middle class seems to be a mostly theoretical problem, as there haven’t been any significant tax increases for them in quite a while. Also, they benefit from the low FICA limit, low capital gains taxes, Obamacare, higher marginal tax rate to benefit deductions, etc.
6. On drug / sentencing reform, no matter how imperfect the Democrats are, it should be obvious the GOP (as a whole) is worse.
Honestly, no sane economist would argue that outside of abstract theory. The reason that you don’t get any returns on your savings is that there has been a total investment glut for over a decade. If you have any halfway decent business idea that would ensure an acceptable return on investment people throw money at you.
I mean in theory lowering taxes would allow some investment in barely breaking even businesses, but that is just a recipe for disaster if the trend should ever turn.
Yeah, we should compare Obama and the Democrats with the real world opposition, not with some Platonically perfect liberal party . The Republican’s policies drive inequality, and indeed, they don’t even admit its a problem.
I would also suggest that weed at least is effectively legal in California, so long as you have 80 bucks for a doctor visit. Technically legal no. Effectively legal? Unless you’re very poor or very dumb.
@R.Dave: “Obama, like his Democratic predecessors, supports continuing and even increasing taxes on capital gains and corporate income, and there are credible arguments from a number of mainstream economists that these taxes in particular reduce investment and economic growth, thus putting downward pressure on employment and wages.”
But Obama hasn’t raised them. So unless you’re making the argument that the very fact that the president longs in his heart to raise taxes has led to a slowdown in employment because employers’ don’t feel sufficiently loved, then what is the possible correlation? It’s not enough to keep taxes at historical lows — if a single person believes that’s the wrong policy, it willl no longer work?
I’m fairly sure the capital gains tax rate did increase from 15% to 20% for just the top tax bracket. Overall they are still lower now than in 2000, so your point is still valid.
Thank you for a comment with actual arguments and citations in it.
Preferential treatment of capital gains is based on two key assumptions: that the efficiency of the market is liquidity-limited, and that capital gains represent profits on investment in businesses. Neither of those things is true in the current market. We have way more liquidity than we need to efficiently match buyers with sellers. Worse yet, the average holding period of a stock has fallen to about five days. That’s not an investment; it’s arbitrage, and should be taxed at a higher rate than ordinary income.
There is good evidence that unions currently tend to reduce access to jobs in favor of increased wages/benefits for job-holders. I agree that’s a problem. On the other hand, I’m not aware of any Obama policies or actions that have been noticeably pro-union. As others have noted, you don’t get to blame conditions now on Obama’s failure to reverse a trend he inherited, no matter who has traditionally supported it.
I couldn’t agree more. Six years ago, Obama campaigned on increased training for kids, including both college and real vocational apprenticeship. Somehow he’s forgotten about the (more important) second half of that.
I have no informed opinion on this topic; I’ll let others agree or disagree.
See above — you can’t reasonably blame him for failure to do even better than he has, when he hasn’t made things any worse. I am intimately familiar with the demographic most affected by his proposed tax rate changes, and any hardship they suffer from it will be self-inflicted.
Again, not something I know anything about.
@R.Dave: In reply to school choice or they could just fund them:
“Key quote: “Accordingly, our findings provide compelling evidence that money does matter and that better school resources can meaningfully improve the long-run outcomes of recently educated children. At the same time, our results also suggest that money alone might not improve outcomes because the effect of any spending increases will depend on exactly how funds are spent.”
The study is linked in the 538 analysis. Yet another issue that was never about school choice for the poor and more about christian indoctrination and objection to science education.
The important thing to me is what did not happen today. It’s been 24 hours since the SOTU and you know what I didn’t see or hear? Serious GOP pushback on Obamacare. Interesting, no?
There are some fantastic public schools in my area. Quite a few actually. Of course they are all in towns where everybody has money.
@edmondo: Ummm…trying to get Congress to do something?
But a good try, thanks for playing.
@wr: No, the message is “and you and your kids are going to have hard crappy lives, because I got my advantage from the period in history in which I was born and am going to make sure that only my kids get that kind of advantage ever again. So there!”
@Gustopher: Even so, the comments here are more thoughtful and erudite than those on places like WorldNutDaily, Red State, and Yahoo. How scary is that?
@Jack: I’ll drink to that. And have one on me.
@grumpy realist: Let me try: because the first is a “producer” creating the wealth of the nation by his economic action and the second is person in what Dr. Joiner would describe as a “menial” job that doesn’t do anything worth paying wages for in the first place?
@Just ‘nutha’: Huh?
Probably not. After Bill Kristol became an embarrassment the NYT was willing to pay good money for a better conservative commentator. And they weren’t able to do any better than Ross Douthat.
True, but at the same time, we don’t get the tax deductions and credits people at lower incomes can claim, and nearly all our income is earned income vs. the much higher percentage from capital gains that the true wealthy receive (and pay far lower tax on).
Still, I’ve got no grounds to complain, I make a good living and my family is comfortable. I’ve no problem with paying what I rightfully owe. But I still get as irritated as anyone when my effective Federal rate is over 20% and Megabux Mitt pays 14% on a thousand times what I earned.
If you were correct then there would be a second relevant political party in Chicago, in Maryland, and there would be a new political party starting in California to replace the defunct Republican Party.
However, in the real world, the Democrats are refusing to concede anything to the Republcans because the Democrats know that they will regain control of the Senate in 2017 and regain control of the House in 2023 due to nothing more than changing demographics and growing minority turnout. If you were right, the the Democrats would not be pushing so hard for increased entitlement spending. However, since the Democrats know that increased entitlement spending leads to more automatic Democratic Party voters, the push in now on to increase entitlement spending and decrease the number of people who pay net income taxes.
I always find it odd that progressive claim they are data driven and reality based but refuse to think about what happens when more than 50% of the voters in the U.S. are automatic Democratic Party voters or even admit tha 95% of blacks are automatic Democratic Party voters.
Which just inaugurated a Republican governor.
I’d also love to see a Tobin tax and a transmission fee for every internet communication. But then I hate spammers….
Heh. TBH, Joni Ernst did take a swipe to Obamacare in her rebuttal, but it’s beginning to look pro forma. The reason the Republicans are saying less about Obamacare is the reason the OP has stopped posting and tweeting about Obamacare. Put simply, its becoming clear that Obamacare is working as advertised and that conservatives are wrong once again. This has happened sooner than I anticipated, but behold:
Republican governors are, one by one, adopting Medicaid expansion. States like Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming are adopting Medicaid expansion. These are the reddest of red states, but they see the logic of Obamacare.
Now does this mean Republicans will soon embrace Obamacare? Nope, but they have started to tiptoe away from Obamacare repeal. And Obamacare approval ratings are steadily inching up.Looks like Obama is right once again.
What hasn’t been discussed here is Boehner’s egregious action of inviting Netanyahoo, without notifying the White House, to speak to Congress against current US Foreign Policy in Iran…a policy that has been far more successful than any Republican or Israeli policy aimed at Iran has been or will ever be.
If Nancy Pelosi had sought to embarrass and undermine Bush 43 in such a manner the right wing nut jobs would be in full fever pitch. To the right wing extremists even questioning the obvious blunder that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was going to be was tantamount to treason. Yet somehow Republicans giving aid and comfort to a foreign leader intent on undermining a sitting President and his policies is OK-fine.
To date I don’t believe OTB has even mentioned this travesty.
The new governor in Maryland will be voted out of office in four years and will spend his term in office not achieving anything and having every veto he makes overridden by the Democrats in the State Senate and House who have massive majorities.
Also, one can look up the stories about the large number of Democrats that Governor Hogan has put in his administration. The Maryland Republicans are so irrelevant that they do not have enough experienced people to staff an administration. And one just has to look at Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration in California to see what happens when a Republican fills with staff with Democrats.
@superdestroyer: No doubt it won’t be an easy job for Hogan. But at the same time he seems pragmatic enough to be able to get things done within the framework he’s been given.
I won’t pretend his election signifies any big sea change in Maryland, but he beat O’Malley’s lieutenant governor and that’s far from irrelevant.
@C. Clavin: I saw that. Holy crap. And did you see where Mossad is flipping Bibi the bird and basically going straight to Obama to tell him the Kirk-Menendez Iran bill, which contains a sanctions trigger, would totally blow up negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program? This is why Obama threatened in the SOTU this week to veto it.
All this ties together because Netanyahu supports the Kirk-Menendez bill and a harsher tone with Iran while Obama and other factions in the Israeli government oppose it. Boehner’s invite of Netanyahu is just the latest shot-across-the-bow at Obama and a sign he is willing to go to the mat on this.
I can’t figure out Boehner’s end game. Congress has a pretty strong record recently of not wanting to stick their necks out when it comes to war….they’ve abdicated responsibility at every single opportunity. So the idea of now instigating a conflict with Iran seems completely out of character.
New news; the White House now says Obama will not meet with Netanyahoo when he comes to DC.
But the upper middle class is also more likely to enjoy mortgage deductions, to have a employer provided, tax free, health insurance, and to own a 401K and a healthy IRA- all huge tax benefits.
@C. Clavin: Boehner’s calculus is simple: in the short run, he gets to stick a finger to Obama, and get some donors happy. In the medium run, Obama will veto the sanctions bill. In the long run, he is hoping to make Israel a wedge issue to finally detach Jews from the Democratic camp (as if!)
Bibi is being the shortsighted idiot here: he will get his nice electoral boost, but will have annoyed Obama, will not prevent a veto of said bill, and in the long run, alienate Democratic elites from the pro-Israel camp.
Jodi Ernst’s family recieved half a million in farm subsidies. This is in addition to the $215K in contracts her father got from the county government when Jodi Ernst was the county auditor.
So much for her hard-scrabble life, living within their means, and her small government cred.
Are there any Republicans who are not flaming hypocrites and pathological liars?
@C. Clavin: Too bad Braley couldn’t use any of that in Iowa- going after farm subsidies is a non-starter when running for office there.
Yes, I know.
Small Government is only for other people.
I don’t disagree with that, or think the tax rates should be increased for that income range. I do think there should be more (borderline punitive) tax brackets added above the current top one though.
I want to repeat others who have thanked you for joining the debate with some cogent arguments. I come to OTB looking for some decent right-of-center perspective and what you’ve offered here is so much better than the poo-flinging we get from the usual right-wing trolls. I hope to see more comments from you here.
I thought you might find this interesting data in consideration of your point 1 on capital gains taxes. The significant capital gains tax cuts GW Bush got passed led to results that don’t support your position. This article points to good analysis in that there’s actually a control group to consider and not just counterfactuals that can’t be proven.
@humanoid.panda: Agree with all that. As I said, I’m not really complaining about anything…except paying 20% when Megabux pays 14%.
@Mikey: Yep. That’s not even a problem that applies only to upper middle class people- a self-employed couple that make 70K a year, has heavy college debt and doesn’t own a house nor has kids will probably pay a higher rate than Mitt Romney.
@C. Clavin: The GOP has been complaining about what they say is Obama’s softness re: Iran (one GOP congressman whose name escapes me said something like the White House is getting its talking points straight from Tehran).
And of course we can always count on GOP genuflection to Bibi, who would like nothing more than to torpedo any negotiations with Iran that don’t include allowing Israel to blow the shit out of everything.
Also, everything @humanoid.panda said.
@humanoid.panda: No doubt. Pretty much the only deduction they could take would be for student loan interest payments, and that’s only a max of $2500.
@humanoid.panda: I think Boehner’s calculus is even simpler than that. He’s got a bunch of “Israel” lobbyists saying their gratitude ($) depends on this. He’s got Neocons telling him it’s the right thing to do. And it’s reflexively anti Obama. His political calculation is simply that enough gratitude ($) = victory.
How much lobbying money does Mossad have?
@gVOR08: You are forgetting how much the evangelicals want war to break out there so Jesus can finally come back and save them. So any lasting peace in the region is tantamount to keeping Jesus away.