After weeks and weeks of build-up, made that much more tense by political sniping about a First Family vacation in Martha's Vineyard and last week's dust-up with the Speaker of the House over whether last night's GOP Presidential primary debate should take precedence over the opening-season NFL game between the Packers and the Saints, President Obama's "Big Jobs Speech" has finally come and gone. I feel -- much as I did as a twelve-year-old, having finally mustered up the courage to see if I could get past the box office of my local theatre to see the R-rated Easy Rider (after pretty much everyone else who mattered in my peer group already had) -- somewhat disappointed but not overly surprised.
After inheriting an economy already well into the Great Recession, the president has now had 33 months to both create a bold narrative -- a vision, if you will -- for a brighter future for our country and chart a course to see us well on our way toward the fulfillment of that vision. For twenty-four of those 33 months, the Democratic Party controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress. And yet, here we were, waiting with much anticipation and after prolonged hand-wringing, for our problems to be solved (or, at the very least, for the solution to our problems to be delivered to us by from on high). As I am fond of saying in such situations, "our headaches are over; here comes Moses with the tablets."
But, alas, our headaches are seemingly just beginning, in part because the prescription that has been delivered by our Physician-in-Chief is, to continue the analogy, half an Alka-Seltzer (or as a devoted Liberal friend of mine likes to say, when presented with a lacking opposing argument, "weak sauce"). When what we really needed was a new vision for America and a clear path forward, what we received instead was a collection of tepid, "been there/done that," short-term fixes that, while they may result in some modest increases in employment, will surely do nothing to solve our long-term economic and fiscal problems. A Band-Aid on a shotgun blast.
Just in case you didn't see the president's Big Jobs Speech, and I don't know that I would blame you if there was an ESPN NFL pre-game extravaganza on opposite the President's address, here are some of the highlights:
1. An estimated $450 billion in new government spending (the "American Jobs Act"), to be paid for with a combination of some government un-spending (i.e. cuts) and the revocation of some tax benefits for the rich and big corporations, all pretty much back-loaded to later years (where "later years" means after the 2012 election), funding:
a. A payroll tax holiday, estimated to put over $1,000.00 in the pockets of those Americans fortunate enough to still be employed;
b. An extension of unemployment benefits;
c. An infrastructure bank, the mechanics of which -- as someone who understands public finance and sophisticated financing structures pretty thoroughly -- either have escaped me entirely or just have not been presented because they are lacking at present;
d. Funding for school construction and infrastructure projects, to be funded directly to the states;
e. A payroll tax cut for employers;
f. Aid for state and local governments;
g. A new-hire tax credit;
h. Job training for long-term unemployed; and
i. A mortgage refinancing initiative for homeowners.
2. An assurance that we are a resilient people who have overcome such Herculean obstacles in the past, so we will do so in the future as well;
3. A mild but sternly delivered threat to Congress that, having presented them with such a tepid bundle of milk toast economic fixes to goose the economy -- almost all of which have had either bipartisan or Republican support, in one form or another, in the past that it would be almost impossible for them to be objectionable -- they'd better act swiftly; and
4. A vague and somewhat idealized promise about exciting things to come for a more-promising future.
So, what, exactly, is wrong with the president's Big Jobs Speech and the solutions contained therein? Pretty much everything. This country, and the other countries whose economies rely upon the success of ours, have heard the reassuring talk from this Administration far too many times for it to any longer be effective. Spending $450 billion seems anemic when you've already spent almost $2 trillion between the February 2009 stimulus package and the December 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts, with precious little to show for it other than perhaps stopping the economic bleeding. It seems highly unlikely that the American Jobs Act is going to -- what's the president's catch-phrase -- get the car out of that ditch.
The measures that have been proposed are extraordinary only in how ordinary they truly are. There is nothing new here, and neither the message nor the handful of remedies is sufficient to bolster the confidence of the American people, our financial institutions, our trading partners and the rest of the world, much less inspire anyone to greatness.
The president's Big Jobs Speech was impassioned to be sure; almost fiery at times. And it received more than the requisite amount of applause and standing O's from the Democratic members of Congress, to whom the president threw plenty of red meat. But the good feelings generated by such a speech are unlikely to last more than a week or two at that, particularly at a time when the bad economic news spigot continues to flow freely.
I wrote more than two-and-a-half years ago, in a piece for the New Geography, that the country needed a bold vision that would provide the framework for the recovery from our economic crisis. I re-emphasized that call for a bold vision in a piece that appeared on NewGeo and also in the Huffington Post this past weekend. I stand by that call for a new vision for America; something that tells us not only that we are capable once again to aspire to greatness -- something the president did eloquently this evening -- but tells us where we're going and lays out the roadmap for getting there by creating a narrative for our future.
Having seen nothing coming from the eight GOP presidential hopefuls in last night's debate at the Reagan Library, and now having been let down, once again, by a president who seems to be able to inspire the American people best only when he's running against someone else, I'm just going to have to lay that vision out myself, in a future blog post. Watch this space.
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