Barack Obama delivered a credible if uninspired jobs speech Thursday night.
He communicated that the United States cannot meet the challenges of an unemployment crisis with an austerity agenda that owes more to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt. But he muddied the message with too much debt and deficit talk.
He signaled to organized labor and progressives that he at least understands the point of a “go big” response to the challenge—even as his instinctive caution erred against going big enough.
In fact, his rhetoric was good deal better than the specifics of his plan.
“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours,” the president explained, to considerable applause. “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy. The question is whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”
Obama’s “it’s time to do what’s right” proposal touches at least some of the right bases—even if it is a clumsy circumnavigation. He proposes to spend $450 billion. The $253 billion in tax cuts he wants go mainly to working folks. The $194 billion in new spending is aimed at hiring incentives, infrastructure projects and other job-creating and retaining programs that the moment demands and that polls suggest Americans are more than willing to fund.
So where does this leave us?
The standard analysis says “nowhere.” Obama has proposed, now Republicans will reject. And that’s that.
But the standard analysis presumes that Obama and his advisers—both economic and political—are rendered powerless by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a cloture-constricted Senate.
While Obama is in a political corner, he has the ability to fight his way out of it.
The question is whether he has the will. If he does, he will likely be a two-term president. If he does not, then he will be this generation’s Jimmy Carter.
The speeches that matter are never valedictories delivered at the end of a struggle. Even eulogies—at least in the political context—are calls to action, not conclusions.
So now Obama must fight.
MoveOn.org’s Justin Ruben got it right when he said that Americans—at least the Americans who would ever consider voting for him—“want to see the President stand up to Tea Party extremism, and push forward with a plan to create good jobs now, and pay for it by ending tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.