Barack Obama is what a real Democrat sounds like. Andrew Jackson was surely clapping from the Great Beyond when he heard Obama talking about the irresponsible bankers:
I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over. ...
I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.
So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.
But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. 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. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.
(All Obama quotes here from the White House transcript.) This kind of explanation of basic economic concepts is also important. FDR used to do that in his fireside chats. And between the clouds of smoke the Republicans are sending up over economic issues and the chronic inability of our "press corps" to comprehend them, we really need the President and other Democrats to be explaining this stuff.
This was also a nice Jacksonian part:
In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
Andrew Jackson battles the Money Power (and he won!)
The only part that I really felt reservations about was the fact that he didn't mount a full-throated defense of Social Security. His line on that was ambiguous enough not to shoot down the anti-Social-Security zealots but didn't endorse any bad stuff, either:
To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
This definitely fell short of the defense of Social Security that is one of the key responsibilities of Obama and all the rest of the Democrats. The Democratic base is really going to have to be grumpy about this until the Dems are standing up consistently against the reactionary billionaire Republican plutocrats like Peter Peterson who want to destroy Social Security and have Grandma eat cat food for her daily nourishment.
But Obama did make it clear that he intends to push ahead now with a health insurance plan. That's excellent!
He didn't break new ground on foreign policy issues. What he said sounded good. I was glad to hear him talking about still intending to revise the strategy for the Afghanistan War.
I was very glad about one thing we didn't hear in his speech: "war on terror" or any variation of it.
This was also a notable and very important part:
To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture. [my emphasis]
It was wonderful to hear him say that. And it's the deepest kind of disgrace to America that a President would ever have to make such a declaration before the country and the world. He has to prosecute the perpetrators of the torture policy.
It was also clear to me listening to Obama and watching the Republicans sitting sullenly in their seats while the Democrats were giving the President standing ovations that Obama realizes that he doesn't have a constructive opposition party to be "bipartisan" with.
But in the few minutes of CNN I watched, the devotees of High Broderism reported that the chamber had been full of bipartisan goodwill and that Obama was clearly striking a bipartisan tone.
On PBS, the first thing one-time "liberal" Mark Shields had to say about the speech was that Obama was more popular among the American people than his policies were. It's generally safe to assume that whenever a Big Pundit says something like that, he probably means "we in the Beltway Village" like Obama better than his policies.
Shields really sounded like a man who the world is fast passing by. Come to think of it, most of the press corps sound like they just aren't able to grasp the state of affairs we're in. How can we expect pundits earning millions per year and who have steeped their brains for decades in Beltway conventional wisdom to be able to process a statement like this in the way a normal human would: "In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans."
They can't comprehend the era in which we're now living. It's bizarre that such a genuinely clueless bunch have a virtual monopoly on mass-media reporting. And it's more bizarre that millions of Republicans try to interpret what they see on the screen and read in the newspaper through the assumption that its all part of a Liberal Press conspiracy.
Bobby Jindal's speech in response on behalf of the Republicans was so painfully bad that even David Brooks was trashing it on PBS afterwards. Brooks called it "insane" and "a disaster" for the Republican Wrecker Party.
Especially coming from the Governor of Louisiana, this anecdote (totally unsubstantiated so far as I'm aware - it sure sounds peculiar) was just priceless:
During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go - when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.
There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens.
I thought even Louisiana sherffs worked for the gubmint. But, shoot, maybe I was wrong.
And, like old Bobby done said, if just hadn't been for all them thar bureaucrats from the fedrul gubmint, everthang in New Orleans would have been just fine!
That's today's Republican Party.
The Republicans are now operating on the philosophy of government of the last truly reactionary Democratic President, Grover Cleveland. Cleveland vetoed a bill to assist farmers called the Texas Seed Bill in 1887 with this explanation in a formal message to the House of Representatives: "though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people."