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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

 
Poetic wake up call: Obama's speech

by digby

I have always been fairly immune to Barack Obama's soaring rhetoric. I don't know why. I guess I'm dead inside. But last night I heard something in his speech I haven't heard before --- something that made me sit up and listen --- an acknowledgement that our divisions aren't just a misunderstanding, they are sincere and they are real:

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers. A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this — this world has ever known. But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward. That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Rather than making a fatuous and unrealizable commitment to "change the way Washington works" he acknowledged the reality that while everyone may be sincere in their love of family and country, we disagree profoundly about how to solve our problems. That strikes me as a welcome maturation of his "transcendent" attitude from the first term (which is interestingly described in this article about Obama and his historian advisers in today's NY Times.)

How this change in attitude plays out, I don't know. He also mentioned the deficit twice last night, so his centrist policy goals don't seem to have been revisited. But I'm happy to have the silly notion of "post-partisanship" replaced with a somewhat world weary, but necessarily clear-eyed view of the political realities.

If I had my way, he'd take Robert Reich's advice:

When the applause among Democrats and recriminations among Republicans begin to quiet down -- probably within the next few days -- the president will have to make some big decisions. The biggest is on the economy.

His victory and the pending "fiscal cliff" give him an opportunity to recast the economic debate. Our central challenge, he should say, is not to reduce the budget deficit. It's to create more good jobs, grow the economy, and widen the circle of prosperity.

The deficit is a problem only in proportion to the overall size of the economy. If the economy grows faster than its current 2 percent annualized rate, the deficit shrinks in proportion. Tax receipts grow, and the deficit becomes more manageable.

But if economic growth slows -- as it will, if taxes are raised on the middle class and if government spending is reduced when unemployment is still high -- the deficit becomes larger in proportion. That's the austerity trap Europe finds itself in. We don't want to go there...

The way to ensure continued growth is to continue the president's payroll tax cut and extend the Bush tax cuts for income under $250,000, and continue government spending.

The way to increase growth is to permanently exempt the first $20,000 of income from the payroll tax and make up for lost revenues by raising the ceiling on income subject to it (that ceiling is now $110,100). And increase government spending -- especially on critical public investments like education, job training, and infrastructure.
President Obama can define his mandate however he chooses. And he knows by now that he will never win over the right no matter what he does. So he should probably be aware of this:
A long string of lawmakers who supported the Bowles-Simpson plan — which would slash Social Security and Medicare benefits while lowering corporate taxes — went down in flames last night.

In fact, almost every candidate who was personally endorsed by the authors of the plan was defeated.
And let's not forget Pete Peterson's poodle, David Walker, who ostentatiously endorsed Mitt Romney in the last week of the campaign.

Here's hoping President Obama's new found acceptance of the partisan divide has also wised him up to the fact that the deficit hawks are fair weather friends who stabbed him in the back. A Grand Bargain will not buy him a moment's worth of credibility, so he'd better believe in it completely on the merits --- they will make sure his legacy will be the president who killed the safety net. After all, their base is elderly, white people who are dependent on social security and medicare. You don't think they are going to take responsibility for that, do you?

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