State of the Union

“They deserve a vote!”  That’s what I came away with–“They deserve a vote.”

It was the best theatre of the SOTU.  The blocking is always strange–the President stands there, with the Vice-President just off his right shoulder, and the Speaker of the House off his left.  So we end up focusing a bit on their reactions, though of course the cameras also cut back and forth to the audience and their reactions. But mostly, it’s Biden and Boehner.

My goodness, Joe Biden has wonderful teeth.  The man’s past 70, but he looks like he’s in terrific shape, and his teeth are pearly white.  Not sure about John Boehner’s teeth; never saw them.  But the poor man was clearly occupied with passing a kidney stone–it’s amazing he was even there.  No, actually, the look on Boehner’s face said eloquently, ‘the next two years are going to suck.’  Or the next two months, really.  The President spoke with his usual eloquence proposing all sorts of very very popular things that Republicans are just never going to support.

The macro-economic reality is that our country has two big problems, unemployment and budget deficits, which the federal government actually can do something about, but only sequentially, not both together.  To decrease unemployment, stimulus spending is needed, which will increase the deficit short-term; to lower the deficit will require some combination of tax increases and budget cuts, both of which will harm the recovery and increase unemployment.  Conventional Beltway wisdom is that deficit reduction should come first.  Every opinion poll shows that the public disagrees–that most citizens are more worried about unemployment.  In this case, the public is right.

You’ll hear guys on the talk shows saying things like: ‘when we’ve solved the budget deficit, that will increase business confidence and the economy will boom.’  Paul Krugman has lots of fun with that idea; that the confidence fairy is just waiting for spending cuts to sprinkle our economy with growth-dust.  Krugman is right, though–that idea is utter nonsense.  What would happen, though, if we had full employment, is that government revenues would expand.  Might not need budget cuts at all.  So we have two problems, and they need to be solved sequentially, and the sequence we should follow is obvious: unemployment first, then budget.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a single macro-economist who wouldn’t agree.

But the Republicans are all in when it comes to spending cuts.  And frankly, the Beltway commentariat pretty universally agrees.  I’m not sure which economists President Obama listens to, but it sure as heckfire ain’t Paul Krugman.  And yet, the President talked about doing both–passing his jobs bill, while also cutting spending.  This is pretty well guaranteed not to work, but it’s probably the best we’re going to get.

After the fiscal cliff deal a few weeks ago, Boehner was on the Sunday talk shows saying ‘that’s it, we’re not giving in another inch on the revenue side.’  The President apparently doesn’t much care–all the language was about ‘closing tax loopholes’ and ‘a balanced approach,’ code for more revenues.  I happen to think he’s right about that, but what it means is–the next fight is going to get really ugly, and the sequester will probably happen.  Too bad; the sequester is a truly terrible idea.

Lots of small programs suggested, very few of which have a chance of passing.  I loved the manufacturing innovation institute thing The President talked about in Ohio.  He wants funding for fifteen of ’em.  Sounds good to me.  I also loved the fact that “70,000 structurally deficient bridges” was an applause line. Yay, us!  Our bridges suck!  (I think what Congress was applauding was the idea of, like, fixing them.  Which I’m in favor of.)

But the gun thing; that was terrific political theatre.  And he’s absolutely right.  We need to reduce gun violence.  And there, in the House chamber, were Gabby Giffords and that heroic cop and the Newtown parents. I don’t have any magic mind meld with The Founders, but I do believe that they would have been appalled at the idea that any bill dealing with a nationally significant issue (like guns) would never even come to a vote.  What I don’t get is why the President didn’t turn around at that point, look his Speaker prop in the eye, and say ‘I want your assurance, right now, that a guns bill will make it out of committee, to the House floor, for a vote.’  THAT would have been theatre.

Marco Rubio is running for President, and got to give the response.  Those guys always look bad in comparison to the President; standing in front of a flag and some curtain thing, they look petty and puny and insignificant.  And Rubio’s speech was horrific.

And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his (Obama’s) solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

And the idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried.

This gives the flavor–usual conservative nonsense about the ‘size of government.’  But the middle section above, that’s the key.  “A housing crisis created by reckless government policies.”  Conservatives love that narrative–the housing crisis was caused by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the Community Reinvestment Act.  It has the unfortunate deficiency of being utterly and completely untrue.  I’ve read maybe twenty books about the World-Wide Financial Crisis–it’s the most carefully studied and researched economic event of my lifetime.  And there’s Marco Rubio starting his speech with . . . well, I’m not going to call it a lie.  That’s unkind.  Let me say instead ‘utter and complete hogswallow.’

Also, let me repeat–the man is running for President. (He hasn’t formally announced or anything, but come on; he’s a Senator from Florida who spends half his time in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He wants it so bad he can taste it.)  He wants to be head of the executive branch of the United States government.  So why was the whole speech about what a terrible thing government is?  It’s bizarre, really.  My daughter is looking for a job right now, and she interviewed at a real estate office.  Rubio’s speech was the equivalent of my daughter, in her interview, saying ‘by the way, I really hate real estate.  I just think it’s really a terrible idea.’  It’s like someone applying for the job as CEO of General Motors saying ‘you should know, by the way, I hate cars.  Seriously, I think cars are awful.  Would never own one personally.’

Rubio’s whole speech was like that.  ‘Here’s one thing government does badly.  Oh, and here’s another one.  Wait, it also stinks at this.’  Rubio made up a bunch of hooey about Obamacare–because his base loathes Obamacare–and then accused the President of bad faith.  My favorite moment was his faux outrage over the very suggestion that Republicans favor rich people.  I mean, maybe he’s serious in thinking that tax cuts for rich guys create jobs for poor guys.  Maybe he really believes that.  Was a time, I believed in the Easter bunny.

Oh, and note to Marco–nobody cares about Solyndra.

And did you catch his solution to student loans?  I mean, this is a real problem.  Kids borrowed money to go to college, because that’s how you get a good job.  Now they’re graduating (or have recently graduated), and wow, no jobs.  It really sucks, and I think that’s maybe the biggest driver of the Occupy movement.  Here’s Rubio’s proposal: “Today, many graduates face massive student debt. We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they’re taking out.”  That’s your help?  Some heartless analysis of why someone shouldn’t have gone to grad school?  A wag of the finger to you, irresponsible student borrower!

My gosh, his speech was a disaster.  The only good thing about it is that voters will have four years to forget it ever happened.

At that, it was better than Rand Paul’s Tea Party rebuttal speech.

Ron Paul’s kid is also running for President, chip off the old block.  And there’s something sort of fun about his ‘pox on both houses, I’m the only honest man in the room’ pose.  It was, however, intellectually and factually dishonest in ways even Rubio disdained.

The President’s massive tax hikes and spending increases have caused his budgets to get ZERO votes in both houses of Congress. Not a single Democrat voted for the President’s budget!

Liar liar pants on fire–this’s just flat not true.  I can’t find the link this morning, but Jake Tapper of ABC News had a great story that explained it well.  Here’s a Huffington Post story instead.  What happened is this: Jeff Sessions, R-Ala, put forward a fake budget, which he called “President Obama’s budget.”  Federal budgets are hundreds of pages long–Sessions’ was like five pages.  It was an election-year stunt, and yes, it got no votes in the Senate.  Republicans all voted against it, and Democrats did too, because it was just this joke budget–it didn’t mean anything.  Then the Washington Times ran with the story, as did Fox News, as though it were actually, you know, a thing.

For Rand Paul to bring it up in his speech is just reprehensible.  This is contemptible behavior.  Most listeners wouldn’t know the facts of the case, and explaining it takes awhile–took me a whole paragraph above. I don’t care if he was playing to his base, this kind of lie can’t be condemned strongly enough. I tuned out the rest of Paul’s speech, which I read this morning and which was just the usual libertarian economic nonsense.

President Obama’s SOTU was a good speech–he always gives good speeches.  Liked his proposals, liked the general direction he’s taking us.  But House Republicans have dug in their heels.  It’s going to get ugly, and the ugliness starts soon.




One thought on “State of the Union

  1. alishahagey

    Thank you for this piece. You always have a way of articulating exactly how I feel politically. And I can honestly say I have only read 1 maybe 2 books on the financial crisis, and I still agree with you.


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