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Leo Hindery, Jr. Headshot

If I Was Helping Draft the 2010 State of the Union Speech

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If I was helping draft the 2010 State of the Union speech, I would start off by talking about the workers of Ohio, whose enthusiastic embrace of Candidate Obama in November 2008 is, I believe, what truly put him over the top and made him our nation's 44th President. And of course you don't get to give State of the Union speeches without first being elected.

It was only when Ohio (which John Kerry did not win), as well as traditionally Republican Iowa and Indiana, came aboard on Election night -- and when Michigan and Pennsylvania stayed Democratic -- that we knew that middle class Americans had finally, after eight tortuous years, found their champion-to-be in the White House.

And because I believe that the women and men of Ohio and elsewhere voted for Senator Obama mostly because of his promises regarding fixing our then-already beleaguered economy and his promise of a new type of economic leadership, in my draft for President Obama I would have him talk about JOBS, JOBS, JOBS exactly as he talked about them when he was Candidate Obama.

In a speech on July 2, 2008 to United Steelworkers, when he was seeking the Union's formal endorsement, Barack Obama introduced himself to the crowd by saying up front:

The reason I moved to Chicago and became an organizer after college was to help lift up neighborhoods that were devastated when a local steel plant closed. And it was the best education I ever received -- because it taught me that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

He immediately went on to point out that the so-called "ownership society" of President Bush had left the nation with: "more than 3.5 million manufacturing jobs lost; more than 40,000 factories closed down; wages that are stagnant; and, more often than not, the few jobs being created paying less than the ones we're losing".

And then, as only he can, Candidate Obama once and forever defined himself for America's workers by saying that:

Change is knowing that for trade to work for America, it has to work for all Americans; that we have to stand up to countries that are manipulating their currency or flooding our markets with subsidized goods; that it's wrong to have a "one-size fits all" trade policy that treats countries as different as China and Mexico as if they were the same; and that our job ends not when a trade deal is signed, but when it's enforced.

Change is ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving them to companies that create good paying jobs here in America; it's putting people to work -- members of your union -- making the materials we need to rebuild America.

Change is a President who welcomes you into the White House; and who will finally make the Employee Free Choice Act the law of the land.

These three comments quite literally brought the house down -- I was watching -- and I am convinced that it was this message, which he used almost every day thereafter, that helped propel him to victory four months later in Ohio and in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Candidate Obama closed his remarks that hot, sun-brightened day at the USW Convention in Las Vegas by saying:

Politics didn't lead me to working people; working people led me to politics. The reason I'm running for President is because I don't want to wake up one day many years from now and see that we're still standing idly by while even more plants are shut down, and even more jobs are shipped abroad, and even more workers are denied the good benefits and decent wages they deserve.

This is our moment, Steelworkers. If you keep marching with me and organizing with me, then I promise you this: we will win the general election and then -- you and I -- together are going to change this country, and change this world.

As an informal economic advisor to the Obama for President Campaign and long-time friend to the Steelworkers, I actually had something to do with drafting that July 2008 speech, but when it was given, it was absolutely only Obama's. And as I said, it was a zinger!

So my recommendations today to President Obama for his 2010 State of the Union speech are to go back to being Candidate Obama and to remind the nation and Congress that few others understand so personally the current plight of the American worker and the middle class. Then, he needs to speak forthrightly about the real unemployment and economic problems confronting the nation -- in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania; in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where citizens have recently been voting; and in each of the other 42 States.

'Real unemployment' in the United States is stuck at around 19% instead of the 10% being reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the economy is short a staggering 22.4 million jobs in order to have an overall full unemployment rate of 5%.

President Obama should precisely tell the American people, as if they didn't know already, that the modest economic recovery we're in is, at least today, a "jobless" one: one that already involves the largest absolute number of unemployed American workers ever; one that may well see another half million or so jobs lost before we truly bottom out; and one in which it will take years to recover the millions of jobs lost in the last two years and to add the millions of additional jobs we need in order to get back to real full employment.

Main Street knows the bleak employment situation just by looking around, just as the 159 million workers in America know firsthand that the meager GDP growth in the last two quarters is no indication at all that "the recession is over", as Larry Summers, the President's senior economic advisor, recently told the nation and would have them believe.

People hate being misled, especially when contrary evidence is slapping them in the face every day, and they know that the small GDP growth which is being lauded isn't coming from the reemployment of Main Street -- heck, total unemployed workers have increased 5.7 million just since December 2008 and 13.6 million since the recession officially started in December 2007.

The "economic recovery" in the last few months, if we feel we have to call it that, has really only come from, on the one hand, resuscitating Goldman Sachs and the other large Wall Street financial institutions, which pretty obviously are "back" because they are back paying absurdly excessive compensation and bonuses, and, on the other, from stimulus-driven government hiring and the hiring of short-term 2010 Census workers.

In his 2010 State of the Union speech, the President needs to talk about what he believes the voters in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts have been saying. Then he needs to revisit the solutions that made so much sense back in 2008 in Las Vegas, when we already knew that the economic sky was falling.

Much of what Candidate Obama proposed still makes sense for President Obama, and he needs to repeat his demands for:

• An all-of-government manufacturing and jobs policy aimed at doubling the number of manufacturing jobs in the medium term and at immediately creating millions of new jobs overall.

• Trade, especially with China, that is free of currency manipulation and other illegal subsidies.

• "Buy-domestic" requirements related to federal government procurement that mirror and last as long as the programs of our major trade competitors.

• A major long-term public investment program to upgrade and rebuild our nation's major infrastructure, to include a new National Infrastructure Bank.

• New tax incentives to encourage businesses of all sizes to invest in new and modernized manufacturing facilities and equipment and in domestic jobs-based R&D.

And I think President Obama should then end his first State of the Union speech with a line paraphrased from Russell Crowe's exhortation in the movie Gladiator:

And so my fellow Americans, 'on my signal, [we will now] unleash hell' on every investment banker, commercial banker and corporate executive whose actions brought our nation's economy to its knees and have taken away the livelihoods of more than 30 million American workers.

(OK, I know he probably won't use it -- but you have to admit, it would be a sweet and memorable line to end on. And in light of the President's calls last week to - finally! - go after every bad bank and every bank's crazy compensation practices, heck, maybe he will use it!)

Leo Hindery, Jr. chairs the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is the former chief executive of AT&T Broadband and other major media and telecom companies.

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