By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media
President Obama’s State of the Union address was measured, moderate, and in the wake of the Tucson massacre, the paragon of civility. The speech was less of a presidential annual report card on the shape of the nation and his administration, than a treatise on what the Obama administration will do to create the one thing that the administration has been roundly raked over the coals for: not saying and doing enough to create jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
Presidents know that they can talk eloquently about foreign policy, defense, wars, the environment, deficits, education, immigration, trade, clean energy, tax code reform and, in recent years, the war on terrorism, in their State of the Union addresses. Obama lightly hit on all these points in his. But the success of their administration, their re-election, and their legacy rests on jobs and the economy. The line “It’s the economy stupid” has time and again proven to be anything but a stale cliché.
The perception that Obama slipped badly in that area was a colossal factor in the “shellacking” that he and the Democrats took in the mid-term elections. The message still hung heavily in the air on the eve of Obama’s second official SOTU address when polls showed that while he has gotten a solid bump up in his approval ratings, a majority of Americans still give him a D mark on the handling of the economy.
He even used the time-tested reference to Sputnik. That was the nation’s overdrive rush to beat the Soviets into space, to prod business and political leaders, and the nation to launch a massive program to improve technology, transportation, research and education. This is all aimed at one thing, and that’s to create jobs, and more jobs.
But to do that, it takes money, lots of it. That money can only come from one place: the federal government. Left unsaid in the President’s reference to the Sputnik space and weapons race was that the country spent billions to reassert its superiority over the Soviets in bombs and missiles, and to put a man on the moon. It did not shirk on the spending. The political will and unity and funds to do it were there then. Not this time. The GOP’s priority is jobs but not at the expense of more federal spending. And with a $1.4 trillion dollar deficit, and a sizeable number of Americans in jitters about the debt, spending the requisite billions is not in the official cards. The official attack-point for the GOP has been to paint the Obama administration as reckless, out of control in its spending, and then heap more blame on Obama for allegedly single-handedly creating the deficit nightmare.
GOP Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, in “rebutting” Obama’s address, vowed that the GOP would trim $100 billion from the federal budget. Obama tried to walk the fine political tightrope between the public’s thirst for an improved economy with more jobs and the GOP’s bellicose call for slash-and-burn spending cuts by calling for a five-year spending freeze. The freeze would halt all non-security discretionary spending. This came on top of his earlier call for a pay freeze for all federal employees.
Budget analysts and political experts have already branded the multi-billions that the GOP says can and should be hacked from federal spending as pie-in-the-sky political rhetoric. This is the same GOP that has virtually institutionalized earmarks, pork barrel spending, and given the company store away in tax breaks and in spending to the defense industry. The GOP draconian budget reduction plan would wreak havoc on vital arts, education, health care, transportation, small business lending and support programs.
That’s just the dollars and cents of the talk of massive spending cuts. The real battleground is the political war that the GOP intends to wage against the Obama administration to hack away at federal programs. Obama acknowledged that despite the congressional calm and civility during his State of the Union address, the fight over spending and jobs versus cutting the debt will be fierce. And the fight won’t be long in coming. Obama will unveil his budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year on February 13. The GOP almost certainly will scream, nit-pick, and slam the spending proposal as too big and burdensome, and will step up the attack on Obama as a tax-and-spend Democrat who will continue to bloat the deficit.
President Obama in his address repeatedly struck the theme that bi-partisan unity is needed to solve the nation’s problems, first and foremost meaning creating jobs and growing the economy. However, with the GOP gearing up for a full court press to take back the White House in 2012, and the GOP banking on using spending and the federal deficit as its political trump cards against Obama, GOP and Democratic congresspersons sitting together is one thing; working together, as Obama noted, is a far different thing.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts the national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on ktym.com and wfax.com and an internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.