Barack Obama’s not-a-State of the Union address sounded precisely like a State of the Union address, as the president offered a sober assessment of a recession that “is real and (is being felt) everywhere,” and a dramatic vision of the multi-tiered approach he proposes to renew the American economy.
Obama’s Tuesday night speech to Congress and the American people sketched the battlelines for coming weeks and months of wrangling over immediate and longer-term economic policy in the United States — going out of his way to make the debate over what to do about health care central to the discussion. And the Democratic president’s Republican critics bit.
As such, the night was distinguished by two competing themes:
1. Obama’s determination to portray the economic crisis as a daunting challenge that can only be met with a comprehensive approach that includes both emergency responses — as represented by the stimulus bill be signed last week — and structural shifts involving health care, energy and education reform.
2. The Republican Party leadership’s determination — despite evidence of genuine division among Republican governors and even among congressional Republicans — to counter the president’s every suggestion by just saying “no.”
Through much of his speech, Obama sounded a little like an emergency-room surgeon turning away from the operating table to explain what he had done and what he was about to do.
Yes, the patient is very sick, “But,” the physician-in-chief counseled, “while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
Obama outlined the steps he was taking to treat the immediate crisis, beginning with the $800-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he painted it as a something-for-everyone measure that will save or create 3.5 million jobs, provide just about everyone with a tax cut and somehow remain fiscally responsible along the way. He reviewed his proposals to ease credit with a Financial Stability Plan that his office says “will guarantee that money is safe, that banks start lending and that if they do receive taxpayer funds, they will not be allowed to use them for perks and bonuses.” And he described his housing agenda with a new emphasis on the notion that, while the legislation will help work-hard, play-by-the-rules families stay in their homes, it will also keep interest rates low and enables millions of homeowners who aren’t in deep trouble to negotiate lower mortgage rates.