Obama's State of the Union: A "Stump Speech" Grandiose in Scope, Short on Specifics


The 2012 State of the Union (SOTU) was nothing but election-year posturing of the sort practiced by the Democratic Party for several decades, designed to assure the working class that, in spite of the last four years, they really do have its best interests in mind. From jobs to foreign policy, President Obama was very clearly speaking as Candidate Obama, full of promises to make education affordable, keeping bankers and profiteers in their place, and trumpeting his triumphs over America’s multifarious enemies. As other PolicyMic contributors have noted however, Obama’s speech was rather short on specifics

The full text of the speech is readily available, but let’s focus on the highlights for the moment. Obama begins with a throwaway mention to a troop draw-down in Afghanistan, which neglects the fact that tens of thousands of troops have been deployed to Afghanistan during Obama’s term and the current troop reduction falls far short of that – but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps those troops were necessary to impose order on Afghanistan and are being withdrawn because everything is so, well, orderly there now.

Obama goes on to praise the “greatest generation” who returned home after WWII and produced the longest continual boom in the history of American capitalism, saying “they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share — the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”

Leaving aside how perverse it is for America’s first non-white president to fail to mention how many groups were excluded from this “American promise,” Obama also neglects the fact that the relatively good conditions of American workers in the post-war era were also accompanied by an outstandingly high rate of strikes and other labor struggles to force American employers to accept their demands. 

And that golden age of near-full employment — how did it slip away? Listening to Obama’s SOTU you might believe that the jobs had simply got up and strolled away on their own. Not once is NAFTA mentioned, not once is GATT mentioned, nor is any context at all provided. The jobs just “began leaving our shores.” 

Of course, to his credit, Obama wasn’t entirely without ideas for creating jobs. He mentioned how recent trends have led to labor being more expensive in China, following that up with the idea that America can undercut them, or, I’m sorry, the phrase he used was “America is more productive,” which is true in some ways; American productivity having been on the rise for decades, although pointedly it has not kept pace with wages.  The Swedish owners of IKEA certainly think American workers are “productive.”

Speaking of China, Obama also invoked the name of Steve Jobs in this SOTU, saying “every risk-taker and entrepreneur” should aspire to be like the recently deceased Apple founder. Perhaps he was thinking of all the jobs Jobs has created in China, utilizing its “competitive” conditions — if only America could be so willing to sacrifice! Of course, given that Obama has so far in 2012 introduced a jobs program made up nearly two-thirds by unpaid jobs, no one can doubt his commitment to sacrificing for job creation, whatever the cost.

The SOTU also saw Obama mention the 2008 financial crisis, saying “in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn't afford or understand them” and pledging that “I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules” — a nice sentiment, restraining the injustices of banks and finance, although somewhat undercut by a number of things —  including the recent plan emanating from the Obama administration to subsidize a mortgage settlement with the very groups who constructed that “house of cards” using the pension funds of American citizens.

Of course, besides that, talk of getting tough on Wall Street falls rather flat coming from the president who has appointed former Goldman Sachs employees Rahm Emanuel, Robert Hormats, Stephen Friedman, Diana Forrell, Philip Murphy, Mark Patterson, Adam Storch, Alexander Lasry, Sonal Shah, Gregory Craig, and Gary Gensler to his administration. Or the same president who has appointed a former banker for his Chief of Staff three times in a row now. Or the same president who is considering Larry “Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the Less Developed Countries?” Summers to head the World Bank.

These are just a few highlights. Length precludes me from mentioning Obama’s jingoism or his subtle encouragement of fracking or any number of other lovely inclusions in the SOTU. I can say confidently that if Obama wins another turn (something that seems likelier every day) he will not turn into the second coming of FDR, as some liberals are desperately hoping. But odds are they’ll vote for him anyway.

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