Monday, January 24, 2011

Party at the SOTU

As President Obama gets ready to deliver his State of the Union address, there is much speculation about what he will say and how he will say it.  David Corn writes about what he thinks progressives want from Obama's SOTU and concludes that those on the left -- even more than specific policy initiatives -- will be looking to see "how vigorously he will fight the newly empowered Republicans."

This progressive has written repeatedly and with great frustration about Obama's predilection for compromise and bipartisanship.  (See, e.g., Greider on Obama, No Se Puede, Holy Pointless Gimmick; What Krugman Said.)  I certainly would love to see a more combative speech from Obama, where he exposes Republican hypocrisy and makes a bold case for a progressive agenda.  I know that is not going to happen.  What I would settle for is a speech that does not adopt Republican talking points, especially about the need for belt-tightening and the over-arching importance of deficit reduction.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Obama plans to take a "centrist" approach and strike a theme of "national unity" in his speech.  Unfortunately, the more Obama tries to find common ground with Republicans, the more the ground keeps shifting -- and shifting to the right.  Obama will thankfully argue that we must spur the economy by investing in infrastructure, education and technological innovation.  But I am afraid he will also tip his hat to Republicans by stating that such spending must be tempered with the need to reduce the deficit, which will only succeed in giving cover to Republicans, who want to make deep spending cuts and prohibit any new government spending. 

Instead of searching for where Democrats and Republicans can agree, Obama should be gearing up for a defense of his spending priorities by explaining what it would mean to adopt Republican policies.  In this regard, he has been given a great gift -- if he would only take it -- with the selection of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to provide the GOP response to the SOTU.  Rep. Ryan drafted a radical plan for reducing the deficit, known as the "Roadmap for America's Future," that Paul Krugman explained "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."  Obama should anticipate Ryan's inevitable plea in rebuttal for budget cuts and no new spending by explaining what the Republicans truly have in mind.  The American public should know that the Roadmap calls for massive cuts to social programs, partial privatization of Social Security, severe cuts to Medicare, which is to be replaced by a voucher program, and more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Ryan and his fellow Republicans want to privatize Social Security and have been pushing the myth that Social Security is in dire crisis.  And Obama?  It is telling that the liberal Democrats in the House felt compelled to urge Obama to make it clear that he will not agree with Republicans to cut or make changes to Social Security.  As the letter from the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus explains, the SOTU provides Obama with a " unique opportunity to set forth a framework of democratic values and to call for protecting Social Security for generations to come."  At the very minimum, this is an opportunity he should not pass up.

[Related posts:  Dead Armadillos; Let 'Em Eat Catfood; Must Read: Krugman]


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