We Do Big Things (I Like That Better Than “Win the Future,” Don’t You?)

January 26th, 2011

Inspired by the President’s State of the Union message.


The opening applause seemed to go on forever.

(I’m guessing it came mostly from Dems, however.)


“Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner.”


Congratulating the Speaker was a nice thing to say

(Classy for the Pres to start out that way).

I thought for a sec that Boehner might start to cry

(He’s just an emotional kind of guy).


“We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.”


Here Obama is continuing along the lines of his Tucson eulogy

Trying to improve our political ecology.

Obama has again scrupulously avoided blame

(Too bad some on the right aren’t doing the same).


“What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow… We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit — none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.”


A lot has been made lately of the SOTU seating,

But like Obama says, if we can’t work together, it’s self-defeating.

A lot of the attendees did sit on the other side of the aisle,

But as Obama said, if you think the fighting will stop, you’re in denial.


“We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again… Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year.  And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.”


Americans like their leaders to be optimistic

(SOTU tendency towards optimism is almost ritualistic)…


“But we have to do more.  These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.”


But we also want our Pres to be blunt

In laying out solutions to the problems we confront.

Obama managed to walk that fine line,

Optimism and realism to carefully combine.


“Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown… That world has changed.  And for many, the change has been painful.”


Americans hurting want the President to “feel their pain,”

Something Obama stumbled on during the 2008 campaign.

He’s gotten better since the “God and guns” disaster

(It helps to have a few lessons from the pain-feeling master).


“Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.  They’re investing in research and new technologies.  Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.”


As a nation, we are indeed falling behind,

As it’s important that we ourselves periodically remind.

America won’t remain “Number One” if we keep on deferring

Response to the problems to which Obama’s referring.


“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.”


We often have unrealistic expectations for our leaders,

And Presidents are in part just national cheerleaders.

Still, that’s an important function

Without which our democracy wouldn’t function.


“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology, an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”


Americans see the world as one big contest

About which country is the best.

The real world is of course more complicated,

But this metaphor is still useful for getting us motivated.


“And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s…So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”


That’s a great goal (kind of like JFK’s mission lunar),

Though I’d like to see those clean energy gains happen sooner.

If we want our economy and environment to survive

We’ll have to make lots of progress before 2035.


“Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids. Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree…To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.”


Education is always a big SOTU topic,

But then actions don’t measure up (very myopic).

Obama, in contrast, has already taken strong action

(Others say education is important, but then propose its contraction).


“I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.”


Immigration has been the subject of a lot of hot air,

About which Republicans have become increasingly doctrinaire.

Even though Obama has dramatically increased enforcement,

Repubs oppose policies that previously got their endorsement.


One such policy was the DREAM Act

Which many Republicans previously backed.

Those are the “talented, responsible young people” Obama was talking about

That the country needs but which we’re now throwing out.


“Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D.’ We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.  So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts. We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.”


Our national infrastructure is a disaster:

It’s deteriorating at a rate that’s getting faster and faster.

Deferred maintenance is actually debt of an even more damaging kind:

The more our infrastructure crumbles, the further we’ll fall behind.


While deferred maintenance is making up for the sins of the past,

New infrastructure investment focuses on the future, by contrast.

Big projects like the railroad, interstate highways, and electrification

Were a crucial part of developing our nation.


By referring to those past projects, what Obama meant

Is that America has a long tradition of big infrastructure investment.

That’s to preemptively counter naysayers from the GOP side

Who any form of government investment deride.


As Ezra Klein has eloquently said,

Infrastructure investment needs are widespread.

Interest rates and construction costs have never been lower,

And investment in infrastructure would make the jobless rate lower.


“All these investments – in innovation, education, and infrastructure – will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success. For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change. So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.”


Here’s Obama’s olive branch for the right:

Want to lower corporate tax rights? Work with me, and I might.

Reducing loopholes and lowering rates makes economic and political sense

(Under the right conditions, we could even with the corporate tax dispense).


“To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 – because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans — and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”


Free trade gets a lot of bad press,

And it is true that we unfair foreign practices need to address.

But Dems sometimes use “fair” trade as a cover for protection,

Which in my view would take our country in the wrong direction.


I’m glad Obama isn’t taking that common tack,

Free trade agreements to attack.

Sure, they open our markets, but they open foreign ones too,

And that is something we need to do.


“To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.”


Here’s another example of bipartisan outreach

That Obama offered to Republicans in his speech.

Regulatory review makes Republicans glad,

But he simultaneously reminds them that not all regulation is bad.


“I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you…  What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition… So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward…I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”


This is Obama’s response to the GOP zeal

Healthcare reform to replace and repeal.

Of course, they’ve never addressed the myth

That they actually have something to replace it with.


Still, Obama offers an olive branch,

To the newly ascendant GOP legislative branch:

Quit your attacks and attempts to misinform,

And we can work on medical malpractice reform.


“Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt. We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets. But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.”


That we must cut the deficit is unquestionably true

(Read my piece Dangerous Curves for ideas on how that to do).

I wish Obama’d stop saying government, like families, must live within its means,

Because most people don’t understand what that really means.


Families do sometimes borrow, and it’s right for them to do so,

Contrary to the protestations of the Tea Party’s Sal Russo.

Families borrow to buy a house, or a car, or put their kids through school,

And in temporary bad times, it’s better to borrow than go hungry, as a rule.


As with families, it all depends what you’re borrowing to spend the money for:

Is it investment, short-term stimulus, or tax cuts for the rich and an unnecessary war?

Plus, government spending also has a counter-cyclical economic effect,

Without which our economy would have been completely wrecked.


“So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President. This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without… I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.”


No matter how much Dems cut, it’s never enough,

But can Republicans do more than talk tough?

So far, their proposed cuts are mostly mirrors and smoke,

The result of which would leave us only slightly less broke.


And like the Pres says, we can’t rely just on social program cutting

And investment in infrastructure and education gutting.


“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”


Yes, we need to reform Social Security,

But not by privatizing it, as proposed by the GOP.

Remember, it’s supposed to be a safety net,

Not just a way for the rich richer to get.


“And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success. In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.”


A strong majority of Americans opposed tax cuts for the wealthy

Which for our economy and fisque were extremely unhealthy.

The GOP pledged to cut $100 billion this year (they haven’t done so yet);

The tax cuts cost $140 billion, so that still leaves them $40 billion in debt.


Everyone’s in favor of simplifying the tax code,

Except when that means removing a benefit that it on them bestowed.

So it won’t be much fun,

But it periodically does need to be done.


“We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.”


More competent and efficient – yes, I’m all for that,

But let’s not feed GOP lies that government’s all waste and fat.

Of course, whenever Repubs are in charge, they prove that point,

Because they incompetent political cronies appoint.

(At the RNC candidates’ debate, Reince Priebus kept complaining

That the GOP isn’t as good at governing as it is at campaigning.)


“Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.”


It’s a great idea to Congressional lobbyist meetings to publicize

(Something with which the White House already complies).

I’d like to know with whom our representatives are hob-knobbing

(Take the mugger’s mask off so we know who’s doing the robbing).


Vetoing any bill containing earmarks seems a little far-fetched,

So I’m surprised that Obama that promise in SOTU stone etched.

The promise is

Because it didn’t contain the usual political weasel terminology.


“Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.”


You could tell the speech was crafted by a real artisan–

Obama went out of his way to make it non-partisan.

Even Obama’s reference to DADT’s repeal

Was coupled with a Republican-pleasing appeal.

(Republicans are ticked off by university excluding

ROTC and military recruiting.)


“That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.”


Another shout-out to Speaker Boehner

(Obama almost sounds like a GOP campaigner).

Republicans, is this enough American exceptionalism for you?

Obama’s going out of his way to be civil, so I hope you will too.


“And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher. Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them. But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B… Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, ‘We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.’”


This is a great transition to Obama’s main theme:

As a Nation, we still can ourselves and our future redeem.

The way we do that is by thinking and doing big things,

While the GOP to its no-can-do pessimism clings.


“We do big things. The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong. Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”


Our problem is we don’t do big things anymore

Like Americans did in days of yore.

Maybe it just takes someone to remind us

That those days aren’t necessarily behind us.


And that, fellow Americans, is what the speech was all about:

Making our Country and lives something to be inspired about.

Thank you, Mr. President, for starting that conversation.

Thank you, Mr. President, for that inspiration.

***

Here’s the President’s State of the Union message (click here for the transcript).
 

Here’s Hardball’s 1/26/11 panel discussion.
 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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