Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The Obama speech was a home run -- the reaction was overwhelmingly positive -- but I'm not sure it did everything it could have done. The skepticism that's still out there may be confined to a fairly small minority right now, but it can still come back to bite the president sooner or later, especially given the media's fondness for right-wing talking points.

The skepticism centers on three main areas, and Obama provided a head-on response to only one of these concerns: Why do we have to keep giving money to evil bankers? He said it was because

credit has stopped flowing the way it should.

... I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.

That's what this is about. It's not about helping banks –- it's about helping people....

But I think a lot of Americans -- people like your right-wing cousin -- still need to hear a clear explanation of why spending tax money in a Keynesian way is necessary right now. And it would be helpful if they were told why seeking to provide universal health care, offer increased aid to education, and work toward a green energy future is a good idea in the midst of a recession. It's doubtful that last night changed their minds; they're going to keep arguing that it's all just socialist wealth-spreading on the taxpayer's dime, with everyone naively being promised multiple ponies.

Obama still hasn't fully explained that make-work is what you have to resort to, temporarily, when private employers are firing and not hiring and people need to eat. Last night he mentioned cops who now won't be laid off in Minnesota, but I think he needs to push that stimulus-puts-food-on-real-people's-tables argument even harder, and explain more fully why it applies to infrastructure projects and spending on, say, new government cars. (Answer: the government replaces cars eventually anyway, auto workers need to get through the credit crisis, and the new cars will use less gas.)

Obama could explain why a better-run health care system would cost less (certainly less per person) while covering more people (preventive care for the newly insured is cheaper than uninsured people's desperate trips to the emergency room in response to untreated illnesses; making the paperwork more efficient lowers cost; etc.). He could explain that education spending pays for itself by making the educated more able to thrive in the job market. He could give a better sense of the eventual dollar-and-cent value of a better energy system. (He appeals to patriotism by saying we should be the green innovators, but I think it would help to say more explicitly that if we are we'll make the money. )

I'm just worried that when the glow wears off (and everyone forgets the pathetic Jindal response), the argument will be pretty much where it's been. Obama speeches are great, but I'm still not sure they're "pre-butting" the arguments of the GOP noise machine. And, between Obama speeches, that noise machine is most of what we hear.

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