THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Beyond Budgets and Speeches
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Feb. 7-13, 2010
After a year of little progress and a White House strangely out of touch with the concerns of most Americans, President Obama has demonstrated a new energy for addressing our economy.
His State of the Union address combined a more sober but determined tone to pursue his agenda. Acknowledging that this first year had not produced much, he said candidly, "I campaigned on the promise of Change. 'Change you can believe in,' the slogan went. And right now there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change-or that I can deliver it."
President Obama then added, "But remember this, I never suggested change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is."
In a speech calling for bipartisanship and for an end to "tired old battles," President Obama remained faithful to his original agenda, though slightly recast, effectively portraying the Republican party as " the party of No," and striving to restore confidence in his determination.
Just two days later, making good on his own effort to improve cross-party relationships, President Obama appeared at the Retreat held by House Republicans for a spirited debate. Before TV cameras, with no script, he engaged in a lively, energetic exchange. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes combative, he listened to Republican grievances, pledged to follow up on good ideas, and demonstrated a remarkable capacity for thoughtful discussion. Even House Minority Leader John Boehner, the conservative Ohio Republican, found himself saying, "This has been a good first step in having more of a dialogue."
However, these events receded into the distance as President Obama delivered a $3.8 trillion budget for 2011, trying to balance two competing goals: continued government spending to create jobs and controlling a soaring national deficit. Making good on his State of the Union claims, the budget includes $53 billion in tax cuts and $50 billion in job creating plans, including small business tax cuts and investments in repairing the nations infrastructure. The Bush tax cut for households making more than $250,000 a year would be allowed to expire and a new "financial crisis responsibility fee" would be put on the largest banks.
This budget, with deficits that are too large to grasp, has a long and messy road ahead. The New York Times responded with a headline that read, "Red Ink Decade." The Washington Post said "Obama budget would spend billions more" and Republicans said that it avoided tough choices and doesn't fix the deficit. Over the next few weeks positions will no doubt harden and the "tired old partisan bickering" will be back.
For all of President Obama's gifts, he has been unable to face the depth of the crisis we are confronting. The plain truth is that even if he cut out every single cent in the budget, we would still be in deficit, owing an enormous debt to the Chinese who have bailed us out time and again. Moreover, our economy has not produced enough jobs for people in more than a decade.
We face much more than the challenge of creating jobs, restoring regulations and controlling a deficit. The old industrial economy is gone. We face nothing short of the responsibility and challenge to create a new kind of economy. The capacity to do this, based on principles that value meaningful work and caring relationships with one another and with the Earth, will never come from Washington. New ways of living will have to be created by us.