The one word that sums up President Obama's speech last evening is resignation. The President has given up any hope that he will be able to get the Congress to pass any measures that would help the average American who wants to work. Obama has given up on trying to get really progressive measures through the Congress. He has given up on anything that might in any way be thought of as a Democratic initiative. He has given up on putting his own ideas forward. He knows he is beat. He knows, after more than two and a half years of trying to work with Republicans, that they don't want him to succeed and that they have the votes to make sure he doesn't. All he is proposing is old legislation that he repeatedly told us the Republicans have supported in the past, and it was obvious that he knows that now that he is supporting it, they won't even vote for that.
All that Obama has left is the hope that if the economy doesn't significantly improve before the next election, the Republicans will be blamed for having stood in the way of reform and progress, which is the same as saying that he has given up on the idea of reform and progress. All he is left with is politics. What he still doesn't grasp is that the voters are sick to death of politics, and since that is all that he is offering to them, they aren't going to put him back in office for another term.
The biggest miscalculation that Obama made is that he forgot that the one thing Americans have no use for is a quitter. No matter how hopeless his efforts may look in the face of Republican obstructionism, the people want their President to keep fighting, and as their situation gets more desperate, they want him to fight even harder than he has before. But instead of showing the voters that he will work for them just as hard as they are struggling themselves, last evening Obama quit.
What should he have said? That for two and a half years he has tried, as a gentleman, to work with Republicans, but that for two and a half years, they have refused to budge. They have behaved selfishly and obstinately, putting their own interests and the interests of their wealthy contributors above the interests of the country. They have distorted every statement he made and torpedoed every innovation he has put forward. They have refused to confirm his nominees, making it impossible for the government to accomplish what it needs to accomplish in these desperate times. They have politicized the courts. They have used their power and money to confuse the people rather than illuminate the issues. They have done everything they could to make sure that he would fail, and in the process they have set the country on a downward course from which it may never recover. And if they think it is proper for him to say “God Bless America” at the end of his speeches, they better be ready to hear him say “God Damn those who stand in the way of their own country's recovery.”
Obama should have said that while America has no innate right to succeed when other countries fail, neither does it have an obligation to fail when others are succeeding. He correctly pointed out that China and Korea are building high-speed railroads while America's efforts to modernize its transportation system have been unable to gain governmental support. What he forgot to mention was that he had worked to get such support, but that the Republicans had only passed a small portion of the programs he asked for, and they later cut those programs back to the bone. He should have laid the failure right on the doormat of the Republicans in Congress, in no uncertain terms. “Do you want us to become a second class nation?” he should have asked, “If not, why do you keep giving our country second class solutions?”
Our President told us he was proposing cutting back on Medicare benefits so that Medicare would be there in the future, which is almost word for word what the Republicans have been telling him he should do. Instead of making their case for them, he should have told the truth, which is that every cut in Medicare hurts someone. Every person who can't start on Medicare at age 65 but has to wait until age 67 will face the very real possibility that they will not be able to buy insurance for those two non-covered years. He should have explained that if they can buy the insurance, they will still have unmanageable deductibles and co-pays, and that if they can't buy insurance they will likely either use up their savings or will go without medical care. He should have explained that every dollar in savings to the Medicare system costs people who don't qualify for Medicare two dollars, because they pay more for their health care than Medicare pays with its huge purchasing power.
And without stopping for breath, he should have told them that every person who goes without medical care from age 65 to 67 should curse the Republicans, because the Republicans are the ones who are needlessly causing the suffering. He should have reminded everyone that nearly every other advanced nation in the world pays much less for their medical care and gets care that is at least as good as what we get, and often better, and that in the rest of the world everyone gets medical care, not just those who can afford it. Then he should have asked why we can't do what every other country can. And it shouldn't have been a rhetorical question. He should have singled out a Republican congressman and said, “You there in the fourth row. You tell me, right now, why we can't do what every other country can.”
He should have reminded us that President Harry Truman tried to get health coverage for everyone under a Medicare style government sponsored program, and that President Clinton tried, and that he tried, but that each time the insurance companies and drug companies and for-profit hospitals and middle men descended on Washington with suitcases full of money and made sure that things would stay the way they were, so that men and women, children and old people, working people and the unemployed would suffer, and even die.
He should have told them that he now realizes he made a mistake when he sat down and tried to negotiate a compromise on the issue of health care. It was a mistake because the other side never intended to compromise. He should admit that pushing for the watered down “ObamaCare” that he finally got was a terrible mistake, because it isn't good enough for the American people. What they really need and what they deserve is real universal health care, real government sponsored health care, and that he was going to renew his efforts to get the people exactly that, so the Republicans can go ahead with their lawsuits and try to stop ObamaCare, because he now realizes it isn't worthy of his name. What he wants now, and what the American people need, is real reform. And he should apologize for having tried to convince them otherwise.
Obama should have told the American people that he went back and re-read the speech he gave at the Democratic Convention in 2004 that brought him to the attention of the nation, and he knows that he has failed to stand firm on the ideals he promoted and the promises he made. And he should look the people in the eye and tell us that we can call it a new deal or a new start or a new Obama or whatever we want, but he is going to do things differently starting right now. He is going to insist that Congress start doing what needs to be done, and that they shouldn't worry about Tea Partiers who insist that the government can't do anything that wasn't in the Constitution in 1791, because that Constitution says Congress shall have the power to make laws that are necessary and proper and that's what Congress has always done and it is what they are darn well going to continue to do.
Instead of saying he was going to continue to cut the payroll taxes like he did last year, he should have said he was going to restore those taxes to their prior level, because every dollar that doesn't go into Social Security through those payroll taxes helps to bankrupt that essential program that provides for the retirement of nearly every American.
Obama should have said that, while we are on the subject of taxes, we should have a major increase in taxes on millionaires and billionaires, because they can afford to pay the taxes and the government can't afford for them not to. He should point out that these ultra-rich people are only the tiniest sliver of the population, but like kings of old, they own an enormously disproportionate share of the wealth of the entire country. And he should have given us the numbers that prove that the CEOs of big corporations, taking in millions of dollars a year, each make more than one hundred of the people who work for those same companies. “Could a person who makes three million dollars pay an extra fifty thousand in taxes? You bet they could, without even noticing it.” That's what Obama should have said.
And instead of assuring us that all his programs would be paid for, but not telling us how, our President should have told us that he was going to pay for his programs by stopping the foolhardy wars we are fighting, and that there would be money left over. It wouldn't have been a bad idea for him to remind us that part of the reason we started the war in Iraq was because the Republican president and his Republican friends thought that if we kept generating government surpluses as we had been doing under the prior president, a Democrat, we would be able to take better care of people who were disabled or out of work or otherwise needed our help. The Republicans wanted to get rid of some of that extra money so that it wouldn't be used for social welfare, so they cut taxes on the wealthy and started some wars. The wars were a great way to divert government surpluses away from social programs and into the pockets of military contractors. “By golly,” Obama should have said, “The tax cuts and the wars are crippling our government and our country and I'm not going to stand for it anymore because it is shameful for us to deliberately neglect people when we have the ability to help them.”
Obama talked about the economic theory of job creation, but he should have been talking reality. “Go home to your districts,” he should have told the Congresspeople, “and ask them if they are happy that kids who are graduating college can't find jobs. Ask them if the parents of those kids enjoy seeing the disillusioned looks in their kids' faces. Ask the kids, and their parents, what they are going to do about the mountains of debt the kids have that they can't pay back. And then ask them whether they appreciated that you spent weeks arguing about a debt ceiling, or if they would have preferred that you do something to help make college more affordable and jobs more available. I know what you will hear. You will hear what I hear every day.”
No one can say for certain what will or will not create jobs, but everyone knows that if you don't have a job and Congress cuts off your unemployment compensation and you can't find a job, you're in trouble. So it would have been easy for Obama to say that until all the economists can agree on a policy, we sure shouldn't stop sending those unemployment checks out, or people aren't going to have anything to eat.
Obama appropriately said that if America is going to be an industrial powerhouse in the future, it needs to educate its population and train them for jobs. He correctly said that now is not the time to be cutting back on the number of teachers in our schools. But at the same time, he said we should enter into yet another trade agreement that, if it is like the other trade agreements we have entered into in recent years, will ship even more jobs out of our country and send them abroad. “Not one more job overseas, until we see some jobs coming back here,” is what he should have said. Even the Republicans, who made a point of barely applauding anything Obama said, would have had a hard time not rising to cheer that sentiment.
Obama told us, as all Presidents do, that ours is a great country. But he should have gone farther and told us that the multinational corporations which have been dictating our national policy, don't care about our country. He should have explained that these corporations are happy having their goods manufactured in China if it is cheaper than having them manufactured here, and that they don't really care if all the U.S. jobs move overseas. All these corporations care about is their profits, and they have been making huge profits even though American workers are stretched as tight as the skin on a drum.
And he should have kept talking all night if he needed to. “Go ahead and watch football, Mr. Boehner,” he should have said, “I've got a lot to talk to the American people about and I'm not stopping until I've said what I came to say.” He should have gone farther in standing up for unions. He should have reminded us that if it weren't for unions, a lot more American workers' fingers would be chopped off each year by unsafe machinery, and a lot more women would be sexually assaulted at work, a lot more kids would die doing unsafe work that they were pressured into, and a lot more middle aged workers would be fired, and replaced by younger workers who would be paid less. He should have told us that without unions, pensions would be plundered by companies even worse than they have been, and people would be afraid to complain about being forced to work with poisonous chemicals without any protection. “Visit a rehabilitation center and talk with someone who has been maimed at work and then come back here and tell me that government shouldn't regulate workplace safety because it interferes with the entrepreneurial spirit. I dare you!” is what Obama should have said.
A half-hour into his speech, Obama finally got energetic, but he never got as angry as he needed to. He needed to get as angry as vast numbers of middle class people are getting, seeing their retirement approaching while their houses decline in value, their property taxes increase, their 401-ks languish, and their Social Security threatened by the very representatives whom they count on to protect them. He needed to get as angry as the mass of middle-aged workers who are afraid that if they lose their jobs they will never recover financially. He needed to get as angry as the millions of people who are working part time but who need full-time jobs, the millions who can't find any jobs, the millions who hate their jobs but have nowhere else to go.
But Obama never got that angry. He stayed in control. He was cool and calm. He never really connected with the people, because he doesn't know how. He stayed on script, reading carefully crafted words from his prompter, when he should have been pounding the lectern, pointing fingers at his nemesis, staring down the people who have been thwarting his policies and calling them out by name. He delivered a speech when what he needed to do was light a fire.