Wednesday, January 26, 2011

President Obama, Where's the Beef?

I'll never quite get why so many people jump to 'rate' the State of the Union. It's a given that such speeches will take at least half an hour, and usually more like 45 minutes. There's a lot of stuff going on there -- and how do you rate it, anyway? Generally, I think people rate it by how warm and fuzzy it makes them feel, instead of asking themselves, "where's the beef?" Well, that's what I want to know, right now.

For starters, I'm happy President Obama spoke at great length about the importance of education, but I was distressed at how little he offered in terms of how he expects us to afford it. There's little chance of states getting aid to avoid horrendous cuts in this coming year's budget, and there was distressingly little spoken during the speech about how students are to afford a college education in today's broken system. How does he honestly expect to improve education in this country, given those two facts?

Another disappointment was his specifics-free call for a neo-Sputnik; while the best and easiest answer to our jobs crisis is a serious investment in this country's infrastructure and research programs that's the size of the Apollo space program (or, better yet, the Manhattan project), how are we supposed to fund it, given his call for a five-year spending freeze? We're losing out to almost every developed country in the world -- because they're the ones funding their infrastructures and they're the ones funding new technologies like solar panels, while America continues to fall behind.

This goes doubly for his call for strengthening our country's education. If the vast majority of funding for public education is undertaken at the state level, and states are cutting absolutely massive portions of their budgets, how are we supposed to improve education for our kids? Unlike the federal government, states can't print money or go without a balanced budget. If President Obama wasn't pushing for a spending freeze, it would be entirely possible to pass addition state aid packages to keep his big promises, like education and infrastructure. And what is he supposed to realistically do to help people get a college education? Right now, all too many people can't afford it -- even amongst those who are attending. The jobs market is so bad, and there's such a high glut of college-educated people compared to the number of available jobs, that a college education alone is no guarantee to a good job. Furthermore, without a good, high-paying job, most college educations are almost impossible to afford, reasonably or otherwise. The President has not came up with any solutions to these problems yet, so right now his push for a better educational system is just words.

My two biggest disappointments from the speech, by far, had to do with where President Obama thinks this country is going -- and something he said that almost amounts to a lie at this point. The latter is on his call to make the richest in this country pay more of their fair share. He had an opportunity to accomplish this just this past December, yet gave up on it at the merest hint of a fight. Meanwhile, this is an idea that may just be more popular than Ice Cream in this country. Has this just become an annual campaign pledge to the base meant to stir up votes that will, even though it'll probably never happen? I think so -- and it could be to our country's demise.

The biggest disappointment, though, was Obama's parroting of the idea that we're never going to have a strong industrial base in this country again. In a day and age when a country the size of Germany has outpaced us in exports -- and I'm not talking exports, but in the sheer dollars and cents of the exports -- this is just an unacceptable idea. We cannot have a strong country based on building weapons, paying too much for health care and relying on companies like Goldman Sachs that play with numbers, producing nothing. Equally, we cannot have a country where our major corporations are not only not discouraged from shipping jobs overseas, but encouraged to do so. Between "free," but not fair, trade agreements and actual tax credits to ship jobs overseas, our economy has shed literally millions of good, working-class jobs to foreign companies. Furthermore, it isn't a decision that's been made by many of these companies out of profit -- it's been made out of greed, the quest for even higher profits. There are companies that will shift their jobs overseas if it means they'll make 4 more cents, and we can't have that.

This is really about the future of our country. By all means, we may not be able to compete in each and every type of the labor market -- there are certain products that would probably be too expensive to make practically here, like textiles, but certainly we've proved in the past year or two that there are plenty of others that can do well if we invest in them. We can absolutely grow jobs in many manufacturing sectors, building products that are competitively priced and do a lot to help the working class. Just look at how well Detroit's doing these days; they're making great cars that are competitively priced and that people want to buy. We could have lost millions of jobs in the auto industry, but instead we've gained tens of thousands. We can add all sorts of tech and heavy industries to this list -- from components to computers to solar power, which is a particularly touchy subject for us Massachusetts voters right now, after we lost Evergreen Solar.

The point is, we need to believe in this stuff. The point is we can't just keep talking about how we need to do these sorts of things, we actually have to do them. That means we need money, which means we either have to pay for it now by raising taxes on the rich and by drastically cutting the size and scope of the military, or we need to subsist for a few more years on heavy deficit spending -- something we can do, but only if we have a real road-map to get to the point where we'll have a good jobs market within a few years. Unfortunately, I don't think President Obama has that plan right now, and no warm-and-fuzzy speech that boasts of American Exceptionalism, when we have little reason to feel exceptional these days, is going to change that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obama's education dialog was lacking for detail. On this we agree, but what he did say was consistent with what he and Deval Patrick have been saying for awhile. Their priorities are inner city "achievement gap" schools. Certainly a good idea, but the suburbs need help as well.

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