Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 26, 2011

PRESIDENT OBAMA CHALLENGES NATION TO 'WIN THE FUTURE'.... One of the consistent traits we've seen from President Obama over the last two years is his reluctance to pursue goals he doesn't expect to reach. He hates losing, so if Obama doesn't see a path to success , he decides early on the destination isn't worth the effort.

With this in mind, last night's State of the Union address was different than most in that it carefully avoided the laundry list of priorities the president expected Congress to tackle in the coming year. Some of this is because White House officials wanted to present a broader vision of how to "win the future," and some of it was simply born of necessity -- there's no point in presenting the most right-wing House majority ever with a to-do list it won't even try to pass.

Instead, we heard Obama's grand vision, which was very much in line with the Obama we saw before 2009. While multiple crises forced the president from his intended path the last two years, this was Obama being Obama. The address was constantly referencing the horizon, with themes we heard Candidate Obama stress in Iowa four years ago, encapsulated in an optimistic, forward-thinking vision, repeatedly referencing the importance of "winning the future," a phrase used roughly 11 times last night.

What I liked about this is the context in which it presented the center-left perspective. Two years ago, in his first address to a joint session, Obama presented his policy agenda as a matter of simple pragmatism -- we need to tackle Democratic priorities because the circumstances demand it. In 2011, Obama is presenting his agenda as a matter of nationalism -- follow his lead or the nation becomes ossified and stagnant, while our global competitors surpass us. From the speech:

"[N]ations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They're investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world's largest private solar research facility, and the world's fastest computer.

"So yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn't discourage us. It should challenge us.... The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, 'The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.' Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

"Now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. [...]

"Our infrastructure used to be the best - but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a 'D.' We have to do better."

The key is appreciating the rationale behind the pitch. Investing in infrastructure isn't about boosting government spending; it's about securing American leadership. Committing to ambitious education and energy goals isn't about big-government liberalism; it's about keeping the country in the lead in the midst of global competition. Rejecting permanent tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for oil companies isn't about liberal ideals; it's about Americans winning the future.

To do otherwise, the president suggested, and to follow the Republicans' preferred path, is to lose. Don't just reject the GOP's austerity measures because they're wrong, reject them out of a sense of national pride.

This isn't to say Obama presented bold liberalism in a competition-based frame. That's really not the case -- this was a moderate speech, with plenty of elements clearly intended to resonate with those well outside the Democratic base (frivolous lawsuits, military recruiters on college campuses, spending freezes, etc.).

The larger vision, though, committed to the same vision Obama presented as a candidate -- tackling long-term challenges with sensible, effective, progressive measures that can and should garner broad political support.

I don't imagine congressional Republicans found any of this compelling, but after hearing the speech, I suspect they're likely to find themselves in a national minority.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Comments

How does the U.S. "win the future" with the coming demographic situation. Also, America does not do anything well anymore because the government and the activist do not want America to do anything anymore.

The U.S. does not do infrastructure because environmental compliance is virtually impossible and minority contracting is more important than actually building an infrastructure.

Yet, the U.S. is run by a party that still puts lawyers in charge of everything, a party where the leadership send their children to private schools, and a party that believes that racial pandering is more important than success.

President Obama was just cheer leading for the coming failures.

Posted by: superdestroyer on January 26, 2011 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't imagine congressional Republicans found any of this compelling, but after hearing the speech, I suspect they're likely to find themselves in a national minority."

Especially after that weird Twilight Zone double feature Of Ryan and Bachmann that followed the President. I think Hody-Doody Jindal was better!

I still say the tea baggers 15 minutes will be up after the 2012 elections.

Posted by: SaintZak on January 26, 2011 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Superdestroyer, this is the Man, put your tinfoil hat back on and get back in your basement bomb shelter!

Posted by: theMan on January 26, 2011 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

SaintZak
I fully agree with you, perhaps Bachmann should have teamed up with Sarah Palin, a duet from those two would have shown the American people without a shadow of doubt what the intelligence level in the GOP is right now.

Posted by: JS on January 26, 2011 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if the recent publication of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom" is more than synchronicity. Because Americans have become Fat, Dumb, and Lazy.

Last night was a wake up call. I wonder if the Republican House heard the alarm clock. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 26, 2011 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Why not , Super Duper Destroyer ?
Inquiring minds yo know .

Posted by: FRP on January 26, 2011 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

"Investing in infrastructure isn't about boosting government spending; it's about securing American leadership. Committing to ambitious education and energy goals isn't about big-government liberalism; it's about keeping the country in the lead in the midst of global competition. Rejecting permanent tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for oil companies isn't about liberal ideals; it's about Americans winning the future."

That this needs to be adressed in a SOTU proves the sad state of the USA. It should be common understanding, not a reason to fight a cultural war!

"Now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world."

As long as America always wants to out-perform the rest of the world there won't be peace or prosperity around the globe. Historically out-performing always meant exploitation. How about cooperation for once?

Europe tried out-performing each other for more than a thousand years. It only began to prosper when it stopped this foolishness.

Posted by: Vokoban on January 26, 2011 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

No, superdestroyer, for the America of the future, winning won't be synonymous with white supremacy or white privilege. We will become more multi-faceted, and be stronger for it. If bigots like you want to take your ball and go home because you can't stoomach prosperity without being able to look down on your fellow man, so be it. You may be shocked to find out we don't need your meager and mediocre contributions.

Hopefully, the kind Americans of the future will have tea party reservations for you and your ilk.

Posted by: longde on January 26, 2011 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

I still wonder that we have a President who not only looks like a leader, but actually understands what he's reading.
After 8 years of man-animal hybrids, mushroom clouds and yellow cake BS, you get a little, I don't know, jaded?
A good, solid speech. Period.

Bachmann was the real story, later on.
I'll hold off until you write something about her, Steve. Not that you have to, or want to, or that she earned it. But because it'll be FUN!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 26, 2011 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

It is exactly BECAUSE of two terms of BUSH's "no vision" that we are running from behind all over the world...or make that his war with no cost vision if you prefer...and if only our nation addressed serious ongoing infrastructure issues AND began to educate our children so they could perform in this information age by thinking critically we could actually compete. BUT, if you listen carefully to Republicans they are not about "standing pat" they are about GOING BACKWARD as if they are caught in a really bad version of Back to the Future (is there a good one?) when Father knew best, Mother was in an apron, and nobody asked questions...GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!!!

Posted by: Dancer on January 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't that an X-Files movie?

Posted by: jon on January 26, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

That "Win the future" line made me cringe.

It was as lame as Ford's pathetic WIN buttons. As I recall his "whip inflation now" was widely ridiculed.

Posted by: esau on January 26, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” --RFK

If Obama were a football coach, he would spend all four quarters in the Prevent Defense.

Posted by: square1 on January 26, 2011 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I was quite impressed with Obama saying we need to cut/end the subsidies for old energy like oil and coal (most people don't even know they exist) and support clean energy. We need to watch him to see how well he follows up. Also, nice to see David Plouffe around (whom I recall from fundraising and political emails during the campaign, he seems more genuinely progressive and transparent than say Rahm.)

I remember one of the biggest boners from Ryan's rebuttal: that Greece, Ireland et al got into that economic trouble just some simple debt build up. No they didn't, it was the leveraged speculation and bubble bursting. Just having more simple debt just means having to allocate a bigger chunk of payment to bond holders etc, it's linear and predictable and doesn't involve sudden shocks and failures of some expected cover like with CDOs and credit default swaps, the phony insurance and phony ratings by agencies, etc.

Posted by: neil b on January 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I sure wish that the acronym for 'Win the Future' wasn't WTF.

Posted by: es on January 26, 2011 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Could someone please remind Ryan that he voted for 8 Bush budgets that increased the deficit by 50%.
Ayn Rand was a recipient of social security!

Posted by: joan on January 26, 2011 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't like the theme "Win The Future." I think it should have been "Earn The Future." We've got a shitload of work to do and very few leaders willing to plant the first shovel.

Posted by: chrenson on January 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

GOP response to Obama's challenge: Let us boldly stride- into the 19th century!

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on January 26, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Zorro, the 19th Century had investment in trains.

Posted by: jon on January 26, 2011 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, compulsory education in India is only 8 years and female literacy is only 50%.

There may be as many well-educated and accomplished Indians and Chinese as there are well-educated and accomplished Americans, but that leaves billions of Indians and Chinese behind.

Their low tax rates are great for businesses and m/billionaires, though!

Posted by: Shamhat on January 26, 2011 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I hope Obama's White House has the gumption to market WTF buttons. A lot of my friends say they are willing to pay real money to buy and get one. Unlike Ford's WIN buttons, no media outlet is going to publically discuss why WTF is a 'bad' choice. I mean, can you imagine the Christian Right talking about it?

I liked the speech. It was about the future and the investment needed to insure the future is bright. Dems needed and got a counter to GOP whining about spending and cut, cut, cut.

Is anyone else having trouble remembering if it's Paul Ryan or Ryan Paul? Or Rand Paul or just Paul Paul?

Posted by: Seould on January 26, 2011 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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