Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:54 AM
More importantly, though, he demonstrated why, despite his critics, he’s still America’s (and the world’s) best HOPE for leadership in this age of economic and political transformation.
In fact, I’m sure the inside-Washington joke was watching well-known Republican partisans get so rapted up in the speech that they were jumping to their feet with unbridled applause. Frankly, this, like most of his speeches, was so flawless, that all I feel worthy to do here is to share some highlights.
He cited the reasons why he gave himself a B+ for the first year of his presidency:
We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.
Because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.
He reminded everybody why the country is in the state it’s in:
At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.
He heralded a new era of fiscal responsibility:
Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.
He positioned his administration squarely on the side of Main Street versus Wall Street:
Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t… I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.
To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.
He focused on creating new jobs:
We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow… There are projects like that [high speed rail] all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services and information… We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.
The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.
He reiterated his push for a new age, green economy:
I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.
He declared his bloodied but unbowed determination to pass health insurance reform:
I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.
I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage, patients who’ve been denied coverage and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin…. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people…
There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close.
He had relatively little to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or about the global war against terrorism.
Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in relitigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.
As we take the fight to al-Qaida, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as president. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August… But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.
He chastised the Bush-dominated Supreme Court:
Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
He reserved his most ennobling flourish for a frontal assault on the partisan politics that has turned Washington into a schoolyard of bickering do-nothings:
Now, I am not naive. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony and some post-partisan era… But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is election day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.
But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government. So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.
To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.
Finally, he put the challenges to deliver on Change people can believe in into perspective:
I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it. But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy or that I can do it alone…
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on…
We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
Hell, his speech was so good that when he was done, I felt like smoking a cigarette ... and I don’t even smoke. But that’s Obama the smooth talker for you:
After all, as even his liberal friends at Saturday Night Live lampooned recently, despite talking up a transformative global agenda, he has precious little to show for it. And this will only provide more fodder for his critics who already ridicule him as all talk and no action.
[Obama awarded (Affirmative Action) Nobel Peace Prize, TIJ, October 10, 2009]
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the cold water The New York Times has thrown on all of the swooning going on over this speech:
By the end of his first year in office, they had expected to have overhauled the health care system, enacted a market-based cap on carbon emissions blamed for climate change, imposed a new regulatory system on financial institutions, closed the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and signed a new arms control treaty with Russia. None of those have happened….
So, time to put up or shut up Obama! Because no matter how many taxes you cut and how many jobs you “save,” unless you can check off, at the very least, healthcare reform and jobs created on your report card, voters will give you a F instead of that B+ in 2012….
Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize