by Patrick Appel
Full text of the speech here. The NYT compares the words used in SOTU speeches since Roosevelt. Nyhan calls the SOTU the "most overcovered event in politics relative to the amount of the news that's made." His take on the spin:
Instant polls of people who watch the speech are meaningless (it's a non-random sample skewed toward the president's supporters, among other problems).
[T]he percentage of the speech devoted to microeconomic "competitiveness" issues vastly exceeds the amount devoted to long-term macroeconomic policy. If the federal government really wants to create a better climate for innovation, it needs to send a credible signal that steps are being taken to deal with long-term budgetary problems. That section of the speech was, er, less solid.
Obama reaffirms the importance of supporting democracy movements around the world. This type of rhetoric had been toned down during his administration, and so it’s nice to hear him say it so firmly tonight: “And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.”
Drum is unimpressed by Obama's five-year discretionary spending freeze:
Let's all keep in mind that budgets are set one year at a time, and they're mostly set by Congress. The president has a certain amount of agenda-setting power, but that's about it. Members of Congress will do whatever they want, and next year they'll once again do whatever they want. If that means spending more money, they'll spend more money. Obama could announce a hundred-year discretionary spending freeze and it would mean about as much as a five-year freeze. This is more a PR exercise than anything else and should be evaluated on those terms.
Tonight is about many things, but one of them, perhaps encouraged by the pressures of the 140-character tweet stream, is KEYWORDS. Ones the White House is emphasizing: innovate, educate, build, reform, responsibility. Ones it is not: "climate; gun; abortion(/choice/women's health); Clinton; Bush; Israel; Egypt; England."
The topic of gun control does not come up in the speech.
Great: President Obama is open to one of the Republicans’ crummiest ideas. There’s no need for a federal takeover of medical-malpractice rules.
The substance of Obama's speech was moderate liberalism -- we like business, but government has a role too, neither too much nor too little, etc. It's hard to attach that kind of case-by-case pragmatism to an overarching theme. But I do think Obama pulled it off pretty well. He took a fairly hackneyed idea -- the future -- and managed to weave it into issue after issue, from infrastructure to energy to deficits to education and even foreign policy.
Oh god he's doing Reagan. The government is so big and complicated, I have a folksy anecdote about fish that illustrates the absurdity of the entire enterprise of managing a massive, wealthy, post-industrial nation. (Obama is also bad at delivering "jokes," his apparently developed sense of irony nothwithstanding.) Oh, now we're done with "wasteful government spending" and on to our on-going fight against al Qaeda abroad. We're going to kill all the terrorists. All of them! Also we're going to leave Afghanistan. Or begin to leave. Begin to start to leave.
Considering the rumors a few weeks ago, which suggested a cave on Social Security, this wasn’t too bad. Obama said that we’re going to do something about Social Security, but unclear what. And in general he at least somewhat stood his ground against the right. In fact, the best thing about the speech was exactly what most of the commentariat is going to condemn: Obama did not surrender to the fiscal austerity now now now types.
In the address there was a lot of talk about jobs and innovation, both obviously important: but issues that no president controls. There was talk of better access to high-speed Internet and of regulatory and tax-loophole reform: not one single person opposes either. There was dream-world talk of high-speed rail and energy in the year 2035. But there were precious few specifics regarding what will be done right now to address runaway federal debt. And runaway federal debt, which suggests the U.S. future may be less bright, is a major issue holding the economy back.
This really is a much more mainstream American speech than his last one, which was very New Deal-ish. He supposedly read Lou Cannon's Reagan biography over the holidays.
PPACA’s infamous 1099 rule, which requires individuals and businesses to fill out a separate IRS form for any vendor they spend more than $600 on in a given year, was one of the fiscal devices the law’s authors used in order to improve its CBO score. Repealing it appears to have garnered bipartisan support. If Republicans intend to offset this tax increase with spending cuts or other tax increases, it is strategically important that those offsets are unrelated to PPACA, so as to improve the CBO score for repealing the law at a later time under reconciliation rules.
I cannot think of a worse model for future growth than the bygone space-race which was little more than hugely wasteful technological peacocking by cold-war superpowers.
I thought it was a good speech; an example of trying to govern from the White House. I would say that zero percent of the speech was dedicated to building support in congress for concrete pieces of legislation that the President hopes to sign into law. And it’s too bad that the president’s not in a position to promise to shepherd big bills through congress. But the reality is that he’s not. So he’s wisely floating above the fray, issuing “sounds good but hard to do in practice” calls for smart infrastructure investments, tax reform, less oil subsidies, etc. Most likely none of it will happen. But it will definitely sound good, and if the president’s lucky some of it will happen!
(Pie chart from Ezra Klein)
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