The President’s Speech

Last night’s effort wasn’t one of the greatest speeches ever given by President Obama. At the start, he tried to explain some economic history and fundamentals in a simple way, but it came across haltingly and sort of hung like a cloud over the rest of his remarks which did get better. I especially liked the line that “the American people voted for divided government; they didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.” But my favorite passage was this:

The first time a deal was passed, a predecessor of mine made the case for a balanced approach by saying this: “Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.” Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach -– an approach that was pursued not only by President Reagan, but by the first President Bush, by President Clinton, by myself, and by many Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. So we’re left with a stalemate.

This quote was particularly apt, because it illustrates how much the national Republican Party has changed philosophically over the past thirty years. Today, even Ronald Reagan would be cast out for being ideologically impure.

I didn’t watch Speaker Boehner’s address. I’ve heard him repeatedly over the past few weeks and all I see is someone who wants to act in the finest traditions of the US Congress and find some compromise but who is being held hostage by the radicals in his party and who lacks the ability to bend them to his will.

The irony of all this is that it is a completely artificial crisis. Congress has already voted to spend this money. The cuts should have been made at budget time or when they were handing out tax cuts or authorizing wars without any corresponding revenue increases to pay the cost of fighting. It’s like an individual who goes on a credit card spending binge and says, when the bill arrives, “I’ve got to cut back so I’m not going to pay this bill.”

Anyway, after the President’s speech I scanned through Facebook and Twitter for immediate reaction. I observed that the country is as far apart as is its leaders, so maybe they’re just a reflection of us. But if that’s the case, they’re not doing their job, because the job of a leader is to lead, to shape public opinion, not react to it.