Freedom New Mexico
One feels obliged to wonder why a speech that was advertised as one of the most important of President Obama’s term, the speech where he would define the shape of his next two years in office in order to win another four, came off so flat and uninspiring. We suspect it was because the president was so carefully working to position himself as the man in the middle on every issue, the leader who stands above party and politics, the mediator, the master of splitting the difference. This is not President Barack Obama’s natural role, and he did not seem to feel comfortable with it.
For better or worse, the president is a man with convictions about the role of government — and for the first three-quarters of the speech he expressed some of them, although guardedly. Government must encourage innovation (or presumably it will not happen) improve education (although increasing federal involvement has been coterminous with declining test scores) and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. In short, government programs are the engines that drive the economy and societal progress.
That seems close to what this president really thinks, but especially considering the election results in November, he’s swimming against the tide of public opinion. Americans are concerned about a jobless recovery, they are worried about the long-term impact of public debt and deficits, and although they are fuzzy and inconsistent about the details, they think government should be getting smaller, not larger.
Strangely, the president hardly acknowledged the concern about jobs that aren’t coming back. His problem, of course, is that the best way to jumpstart job creation is to reduce the burden of government, institute real regulatory reform and place a moratorium on new regulations, not just establish a panel to look at a few examples of overbearing regulation. Such an approach would go far to establish the climate of certainty and predictability businesses need to start investing in new jobs.
The speech was not without its moments, expressing a vision of a more competitive America and calling on our history to remind us just how resilient and capable Americans are when given opportunity and freedom.
To be successful, however, this speech would have had to acknowledge the deep uncertainty that Americans still feel — despite modest signs of economic growth — about a slow recovery that hasn’t put a significant dent in unemployment. It would have had to acknowledge just how different the 112th Congress will be from the 111th and specify what it means to reach across the aisle to find ways to reduce spending and deficits.
Sadly, all those elements were missing.