By Ryan Kosyla
Obama had a lot to accomplish last week when addressing Congress and the American public in the State of the Union address. His party is factionalizing, moderates and independents are moving away from his increasingly liberal agenda, and Republicans, prompted by Scott Brown’s stunning win in Massachusetts, are making a comeback.
But past his impressive rhetoric and effusive public speaking, what were Obama’s promises? What are his initiatives for the coming year?
The economy. Obama called on Congress for a “new jobs bill,” which would presumably help alleviate the 10% unemployment rate. No major specifics were given other than his plan to take $30 billion repaid by the bailed-out banks and give it to community banks to spur investment, help small business, and create jobs.
It is important to remember, too, that the unemployment rate is far worse 10%. First, there those who are underemployed but still counted as employed in labor statistics (such as a PhD grad flipping burgers). Second, there are those who are employed only part time because they cannot find a full time job – these individuals are also counted as employed. Finally, the unemployment rate does not count those who have stopped looking for a job but are able to work (called discouraged workers). In sum, these three factors all help underestimate the true unemployment rate and make it seem far better than it actually is. Obama understands this and is trying to address the problem in a broad manner, probably afraid that being too specific would alienate an already uneasy Congress.
This is long overdue for an administration that owes part of its election to a faltering economy; the government should have focused on this first and foremost during their first year in office instead of healthcare. If they did that, they would not only be more successful with improving our financial system, but would give them credit and headway in taking on healthcare later.
Health care reform. After taking quite a bruising on health care but knowing reform is very close to being passed, Obama urged them to “get it done.” Obama planned to pass healthcare by now and use his speech as congratulatory remarks. Instead, he and his administration are on the defensive and making a last ditch effort before the bill dies. It is a risk when he urges them to “get it done.” It grows partly from their leadership but mostly from their frustration. Whether healthcare will work or not depends on Democrats in Congress during these first crucial months of 2010.
Spending freeze. How ironic, considering how much the government has spent in the past year. Obama is considering a freeze government expenditures starting in 2011 to last for three years. Interestingly, he received a lukewarm response from Congress, though, as Democrats feel it will hurt the poor and Republicans feel it won’t do anything in light of previous government spending. This will probably not come to fruition due to the spending he will push for healthcare, the economy, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add little support from Congress to that notion and this plan is doomed to fail. Obama would be smart to back off from this idea and stick to what he has done and supported so far: spending money.
Don’t ask, don’t tell policy. This policy is policy for gays serving in the military, meaning no on asks about your sexual orientation and no one tells, either. Obama wants it repealed. It was a short interlude in his one hour and a half long speech and is probably a bargaining chip towards to the Democrats, who have long pushed for the end of this policy, in order to get ahead on health care and other initiatives.
Foreign policy. Obama vaguely described his foreign policy plan, rejecting both an interventional and non-interventional policy. He did put a word of caution to the Iranians and their nuclear program, but, in the end, he made no mention of why he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He probably feels he addressed it already during his speech at West Point last year and knows it isn’t too popular with Americans.
Overall. Obama’s speech was average. Although he put forward some good ideas and impetus behind them, his promises of hope and change are starting to wear off. Unless he gets America’s priorities in order and back on track, Obama is setting himself up to be the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the late 70’s. This next year is crucial to his the mid term elections this November and his reelection campaign in 2012.
Actions certainly speak louder than words. We anxiously await Obama and his administrations until the mid term elections, when we can better gauge the American public’s response to his policies through the voting booth.