Obama's "Union": Back to the Future

01/28/2011 11:00 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


"Marty, we can do anything in the future except regulate Wall Street!"

Watching President Obama's State of the Union I found myself in agreement and frustrated at the same time. This was a formal address to the Congress and the nation, but there were far too many feel-good, meaningless fuzzwords ("We must out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world").

Instead of a call to arms we got a call to teach our kids math and science so they can invent electric cars or the next Facebook (the first mention of FB in a State of the Union).

Instead of regulating business, we must "innovate" new ones, so we can dominate in new categories like "green energy jobs."

We will no longer guarantee our children a future. Instead, we will "win" the future -- as if time itself were now a reward to be attained through capitalism.

Government is not the answer. Instead, this is our "Sputnik moment," one in which all of us must "beat" other countries which are "innovating" and "educating."

He was telling us to secure our economic well-being by invoking a space race that no one remembers except senior citizens, many of whom are in the Tea Party.

The implication is also that maintaining a sound economy, which we took for granted for sixty years, is now as difficult as going to the moon. And Wall Street is not our obstacle, but our NASA.

"Win the Future" is an unfortunate phrase, because it implies its opposite - if we don't "beat" China or India we can lose the future.

Maybe it will end up as a campaign slogan, as the future Obama most needs to win is 2012.

He no doubt intended to inspire Americans by avoiding controversy and emphasizing better days to come. But the health care law (which he mentioned) didn't begin as a slogan or a bromide - it was a real proposal.

He proposed that Americans be guaranteed health, not that they "win" it.

All Americans won not "the future," but groundbreaking, historic legislation.

That's what was missing from this State of the Union.

We still want Change We Can Believe In - not just innovation and education.

Besides, innovation and education produced the airplane, the light bulb and the social network - but they also led to the credit default swap.

And a future where things like that can still be "innovated" is not one I want to go back to.