The Reality Behind President Obama's State of the Union Speech

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Ben Cohen
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In terms of giving an inspiring speech and appearing Presidential, Obama delivered last night. In his State of the Union speech Obama hit all the necessary topics, appealed to every sector of the population, and called for Americans to rise to new global economic challenges. Media commentators are calling it his 'Sputnik' moment and the Republicans are struggling to come up with a narrative to negate its impact on Obama's rising poll numbers. Obama's theme was jobs, jobs, jobs, and he laid out a basic plan to increase exports to China, do trade deals with South East Asia, and invest in technology and infrastructure. He also outlined a plan to cut the deficit (a 5 year spending freeze that no one actually thinks will happen), but reminded his political opponents that cuts must not come at the expense of investment in America's future:

"cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. You may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

Obama said the right things, struck the right tone, and appealed to the right audience. But speeches are one thing, and reality another. Stephen Diamond Associate Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, pointed out the following in a fascinating interview on The Real News:

The themes he's raising make me think, gosh, he really wishes he lived in the late 1990s. But he's not likely to have the same kind of luck that President Clinton had coming up for his second term. The emphasis is on competitiveness, on trade, on innovation, these are the themes of the '90s. It's the globalization theme. It's the idea that the US model can triumph on a global basis. But we've just gone through the worst crisis in the history of the American economy, practically, and there are real big holes in that American model. There's nothing that I'm hearing so far about what the speech is likely to do to fix any of those holes, and we're really digging ourselves in deeper.

The use of words like 'investment', 'infrastructure', 'technology' and 'education' imply a Keynesian approach to economic recovery, yet Obama has not mentioned a single federally funded jobs program, or any pro-union, pro worker policy he would like to implement. The rhetoric and action in Washington has centered mostly around 'pro business' policies that favor capital over labor, and private markets over public spending plans.

The economic recovery has been painfully slow for the majority of the country, largely because the rich were the beneficiaries of the bailout, not regular workers. One would have thought that this would inspire a different approach to rebuilding the economy, but so far, the action has not matched the rhetoric.