My quick response to President Barack Obama's speech is that he consolidated his center-left base and put Republicans on the defense. To the extent that politics is drama, he continued the gains he has made since losing the House in November. In politics, as in basketball, he comes from behind well.
Investment in infrastructure, schools, clean energy and new technology is widely popular, and cannot easily be attacked as “big government.”
The speech was good for core constituencies he needs to keep: labor, environmentalists, gays, latinos, critics of defense spending, and opponents of tax cuts for the rich. The infrastructure emphasis brings on developers, corporations and building trades.
It is no accident that China is buying $19 billion in American commercial aircraft from Boeing now that William Daley is White House chief of staff.
His offense was well-orchestrated. When MSNBC was moaning before the speech that Obama would disappoint liberals, Howard Dean said he’d read the speech and liked it very much. When Larry O’Donnell was criticizing the lack of any mention of gun control, Chris Matthews scooped him with the news that Obama plans a separate speech on gun violence in the near future. Woops.
There is a difference in politics between poetry and prose, as Mario Cuomo famously said. To those of us focused on the endless wars, the language was not specific enough to reassure the peace movement, but that is nothing new. On Iraq, he said the war “is coming to an end” without giving a guarantee that the remaining 50,000 American troops will leave on the December 20011 deadline. On Afghanistan, he warned that more fights are ahead, but that in July he will begin bringing the troops home – without specifying how many troops will be withdrawn by when. We can assume that 2015 remains his provisional deadline for complete withdrawal of combat troops, a date which is much too far for progressives.
Moving from the poetry to the prose, a key question in the next several months is how spending for Afghanistan and Pakistan will be addressed in the debate over deficits. It’s preposterous to propose cuts in government spending while budgeting unfunded trillions for these wars.