I may have watched one too many Republican presidential debates. At least that’s what I thought after re-reading my tweets about President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. I detected a note of cynicism in them that I surmise is a symptom of election season fatigue. The president struck strong notes for the middle class when he talked about ending tax breaks for U.S. companies that export jobs overseas, but lost me when he highlighted a laid-off 55-year-old man who found a green energy job. Clearly he hasn’t looked for work in four years.
Through a Middle-Class Lens
For a straightforward report on the speech, check out Cynthia Gordy’s at The Root. She summarized it like this: “The president largely focused on the economy through the lens of the struggling poor and disappearing middle class. Laying out his blueprint for restoring the economy through manufacturing, clean energy, education and a revised tax code, he also touched on what he called ‘the defining issue of our time’ — delivering on the American promise of hard work and responsibility paying off with the ability to own a home, raise a family and retire.”
Others weren’t so generous.
At The New York Times, John Harwood declared the speech “more partisan than presidential,” saying the president’s “promises to heal the rifts between red America and blue America have fallen flat,” so “he is now trying to highlight his differences with Republicans in an effort to win a second term and new leverage.”
Times Columnist Ross Douthat basically agreed, but concluded that “the substance of the speech could be summed up in one word: More.” More spending on, well, everything, “all of it to be paid for, inevitably, by more taxes on the wealthy.”
The president’s new policies may not do much for Black unemployment, said Perry Bacon Jr. at The Root. This is because experts tie African Americans’ high jobless rates to their disproportionate work in America’s disappearing manufacturing base and in the public sector. “Obama’s speech included a number of ideas to further speed up the revival of American manufacturing. But many of his ideas, such as provisions to raise the tax rates for companies that ship jobs overseas, may not pass the Republican House of Representatives,” Bacon Jr. concluded.
More Republican Critique
Newser has a nice summary of Republican responses to the speech, including that of Herman “I’m Not Going Away” Cain. He focuses on Tea Party complaints like “Obamacare,” class warfare, and the “liberal media,” Newser reported. Cain also reportedly said sexual impropriety allegations like the ones that derailed his campaign have failed against Newt Gingrich because “the American people are waking up to dirty, gutter politics.”
Oh, is that why? Whoops. My cynicism is showing again.
What do you think?
Did the president’s speech inspire you or merely tire you?
REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”
In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?
After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …
And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet.
And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.
Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.
The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.
What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.
Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.
Ben Seigel, deputy director for the Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told The Grio that churches “have a big role to play,” particularly when it comes to addressing the emotional challenges of being unemployed.
“What we have found, and churches have shown us, is that once they can get past the anger stage, and are helped in rebuilding their self-esteem, then they can become more productive job seekers,” he said.
In a blog post at the CoP site, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis discussed employment ministries that include social media training, network groups, and work search round tables as means of support for the unemployed.
If your church has a ministry like this, tell us about it in the comments.