SOTU 2014 focuses on jobs, fairness

President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week highlighted a number of themes that focused on creating more opportunities for working Americans by streamlining the tax code, providing financial support for small business innovation, and making older industries like auto manufacturing and newer industries like vaccine manufacturing more competitive in the global economy.

Underlying all this was a promise to get the country back on track after it went off the rails in 2008 from a financial collapse that was precipitated by poor financial oversight, risky investment, and gross mismanagement of the nation’s financial and banking sectors. Obama claimed that the recession was making several trends worse, including growing income inequality between the wealthy and the rest of Americans. Although the President called on Congress to end its politics of obstruction and act to reform a sluggish economic recovery, he indicated that he didn’t expect much from the Republican Party, and he would move ahead without them wherever executive orders could be made on these issues in place of substantial legislation.

Here is an excerpt of Obama’s SOTU 2014 that focuses on the theme of economic recovery and fairness:

And in the coming months — (applause) — in the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all, the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. (Applause.)

Now, let’s face it: That belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

So our job is to reverse these trends.

Read the full text and watch the video of President Obama’s SOTU speech here.

Republican Response to Obama’s State of the Union Is Weak on Facts

In his third State of the Union address President Obama drew a picture of cooperation between government and business for an America that is “built to last”—a phrase he repeated frequently that was intended to remind listeners of his successful plan to bail out America’s auto industry. The President pointed to Detroit as a prime example of what government can do when it works with business to keep America’s factories and jobs from going under or being shipped overseas. He rightly claimed a victory here that did more good for Americans than settling our score with Osama bin Laden:  “We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back.”

The picture of cooperation is starkly different than the antagonism between government and business painted by the “loyal” opposition of the Republican Party. In his televised response to Obama’s address, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana laid the blame for America’s economic downturn squarely at the President’s feet despite acknowledging that the recession began under his party’s own watch. (He did not mention that Republican-style economic policy was almost entirely to blame for America’s economic mess.) The tepid speech was out of touch with basic facts and did nothing but rehash the same time tired rhetoric this party has been jabbering for years:  smaller government, no taxes, less regulation and oversight of the economy.

Take the following assertion Mr. Daniels made about spending under the Obama administration:  “In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt.” Or again, the assertion that the “grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped [sic] economic recovery.” The claim that the debt has increased under Obama is true, but the assertion that it comes from new spending, or that government stimulus like that from the Detroit example failed, are shameless lies that stink of political desperation.

The fact is that federal spending was already on pace to “explode” the national debt, and not because the President had the power to spend more money on new programs. Rather, the debt spiraled out of control for two reasons:  first, the Bush-era tax cuts dried up revenue to keep pace with spending; and second, the financial collapse, and subsequent shrinking of growth and income, scorched the earth of what was left of tax-based revenue sources. Since most revenue goes to servicing the national debt it exploded once the principal source of revenue was destroyed by the Republican give-away of tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Republican attitudes and policies on taxes and deregulation are more to blame for the skyrocketing debt in the last three years than anything the President has the power to do.

The starkly different pictures of the relationship between government and business are apparent, but the picture painted by the Republicans reveals economic fantasizing that lacks common sense. Like a work by Monet, this picture looks good from far off but closer inspection reveals the outlines lack a coherent shape and details are fuzzy. Here is a soundbite that feeds such fantasizing because it lacks any grounding in real facts about our present economic problems:  “We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves.”

Never mind that economic inequality has grown significantly in the last two decades, much of it in the last several years, and is now at its greatest point since the Great Depression. Never mind that the rate of poverty, in which individuals and families live on approximately $10,000 annually, has grown by 30 percent in the last three years. These economic facts are ignored by the “loyal” opposition in favor of talking points that are seemingly designed to reassure themselves of a world picture that never was, isn’t now, and never will be. Republicans are not interested in what’s true as a matter of fact, they are only interested in what sounds true to millions of unskilled listeners who, like them, paint in big brush strokes, but can’t keep between the lines when it comes to drawing a coherent picture that remotely looks like reality.