“We’re not a mean people. We’re not a selfish people. We’re not a people that just looks out for number one. Why should our politics reflect those kinds of values?” — President Barack Obama, 7/24/2013
There are many reasons that the right-wing in this country are going to hate President Barack Obama’s speech on his economic vision — delivered today at Knox College in Illinois — and that’s how you know it was one of the very best in his political career. For a little over an hour, the president stood in front of a large, boisterous crowd and delivered the first in what is promised to be a series of speeches of which the intent is to move the dialogue of the nation away from the incessant political theatrics of Darrell Issa’s buffoonery in the House. “Scandal fever” has become an epidemic in Washington and it appears that the Obama White House believes the economy is their vaccine.
Obama is one shrewd customer, and the Republicans always underestimate him. Yesterday’s speech set the parameters of the gambit that will either make or break his legacy — it will either create or stall the momentum his second term agenda needs. It’s him against the Tea Party-controlled Republican Congress. This speech was his declaration of intent — the battle is on.
Barack Obama has seemingly figured out what his greatest weapon is — the Bully Pulpit. For however long he chooses, he can go on a tour of the country and sell his vision at every stop along the way. Guess what the top news story in every market he visits will be? It’ll be Obama delivering a message like the one he brought to Illinois today when he said, “It’s not the ability to generate incredible wealth for the few, it’s our ability to give everybody a chance to pursue their own true measure of happiness. We haven’t just wanted success for ourselves; we want it for our neighbors, too.”
“The businesses of tomorrow won’t locate near old roads and outdated ports; they’ll relocate to places with high-speed internet; high-tech schools; systems that move air and auto traffic faster, not to mention get parents home to their kids faster. We can watch that happen in other countries, or we can choose to make it happen right here, in America.” –President Barack Obama
If that sounds an awful lot to you like a way to describe a president’s vision of the American Dream, I think you’re onto something. Or at least I want to think you are because that’s the impression that line and its accompanying passage left me with. Obama it would seem has ventured a guess that the only way to break the gridlock is to confront it. He wants to frame this debate as Obama’s Vision versus The Republican Austerity Wing’s Vision of American middle-class life. It is also extremely wise given just how un-trusting Americans are of Congress in general, but particularly of the members of the GOP within it. Sure, a little under half the country may not have voted him, but Congressional approval ratings are dipping into the single-digits these days; he wins by default.
One thing was made clear yesterday — the middle class are the priority and Obama intends to make them the priority by policy. Obama’s Vision is one where smart, albeit big government helps level the playing field and close the gap between those on the top rung and those living in subterranean territories. By focusing on education, infrastructure, and smart financial reforms, Obama told the assembled crowd and ostensibly the entire country that he wants to see more investment in our future, not just more mindless cuts. He was quick to point out in several key moments that his Republican opponents have done a whole hell of a lot of complaining and obstructing, but not a whole lot of suggesting of their own solutions.
“I am laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. Now it’s time for you to lay out yours…If you have better ideas…let’s hear them.”
The new “damage control” in terms of all the scandals (that never seem to go anywhere and only serve to block his agenda) is to do as much as he can to show America just how unfocused on fixing the economy Republicans are. It’s not enough to assume that people know it, Obama’s now set to tour the country playing “Show and Tell” all the way.
The proverbial line has once again been drawn in the sand. Will the general public put up with more of the same, and for how long? Up to this point, Obama’s been seemingly reluctant to really lean on the bully pulpit powers of the Executive. Those days are apparently over. “I have now run my last campaign. I do not intend to wait until the next campaign or the next president before tackling the issues that matter,” Obama told the assembled throng of supporters.
Despite what the fools on the Hill are saying, he’s only six months into his second term. It’s the media’s job to sell us all on the next ratings-driving story or crisis for the Obama White House, and lately the line has been, “Is Obama’s second term agenda dead?” It would appear that Obama himself is willing to answer that idiotic question himself, “…the only thing I care about is how to use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again.”
Obama made sure to spend considerable time on education reform and on pushing the importance of investing in our future. To many of us, it’s a fairly simple proposition — the more knowledge we impart to our kids, the better leaders and thinkers they’ll be when it’s their job to run the show. President Obama made looking towards the future — a tried and true presidential rhetorical gem used by both Reagan and Clinton — a central theme. It would seem that Obama is going to continue leaning on the fact that we are in the middle of a generational shift and that shift seems to be lining his views and visions up with the generation just now starting to participate in the national debates on today’s issues.
“That’s why we don’t call it John’s dream or Susie’s dream or Barack’s dream or Pat’s dream. We call it the American Dream. And that’s what makes this country special, the idea that no matter who you are or what you look like or where you come from or who you love, you can make it if you try. That’s what we’re fighting for.” –President Barack Obama
Frankly speaking, it’s genius. The truth is that as large and cumbersome a population as the Boomers are, the Gen X, Y and Millennial crowds dwarf them by comparison. If modern thinking fits better with his vision, he’d do well to try and activate the youth. Common political wisdom is that only the middle-aged and elderly vote and participate in elections. Thanks to social media and the 2012 elections, we know those days are numbered. It was the youth in the streets protesting the Vietnam War, women’s liberation and LGBT awareness in the sixties and seventies, and it’s the younger generation today that started the Occupy movement.
Young adults, in other words, are a resource that’s never tapped enough…except when we’re shipping them off to die in war. History shows us time after time that when young adults are involved and engaged they can drive the conversation and force the establishment to stop what they’re doing and take notice. Being cynical doesn’t change the fact that when politicians are able to actually connect with the youth, big things can happen. That’s why Obama is using Funny or Die to promote the roll-out of Obamacare.
“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century.” — President Barack Obama
In the end, there’s no telling whether the president’s speech will have a meaningful impact or if it’ll just get lost in the noise of the “endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals” that Obama warned has made it so that “Washington has taken its eye off the ball.” One thing is clear, at least someone in the Obama White House had the right idea — take the show on the road, engage the youth, and lean on the fact that there are still millions of Americans who want progress and want the stalemate to end. It may take time for the message to get out, but if the American public is given a start choice between an agenda that may have some elements in it that scare older and more entrenched folks and a party who is still busier legislating vaginae than they are the economy, the environment, or creating jobs, no amount of gerrymandering will be able to keep the GOP in the majority next year.
He gave us a glimpse of the Obama that his supporters thought he’d be all day every day. The question now becomes how long this Obama sticks around. Call me crazy, but as long as he’s putting things to the American people like this, “What makes us special has never been our ability to generate incredible wealth for the few, but our ability to give everyone a chance to pursue their own true measure of happiness,” the better off he’s going to be. That’s the hope and change he spoke of so long ago, and his speech yesterday proves that those paradigms aren’t dead political rhetoric after all. They may be on life support, but President Obama appears ready, willing and able to perform heroic measures to save them.