Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

Last night I gathered with about 20 or so Martinsville-Henry County Democrats to watch the State of the Union and Governor McDonnell's response. The crowd was very receptive and enthusiastic, and I think they'll be energized for the coming election. I don't want to simply echo what the rest of the blogosphere is saying about SOTU, so I'll try to keep my comments fairly brief.

Overall, I think the President did a pretty good job. It was encouraging to see him out front, in his element, delivering a pep talk we all desperately needed to hear. I was especially glad to hear his plan to give the $30 billion in repaid bailout money to community banks--McDonnell's line about the closest government to the people being the most effective could also be applied to financial institutions. I'll expound on this in an upcoming post about the "move-your-money" phenomenon, but I trust my local credit union a lot more than I would ever trust Bank of America.

I was also glad to hear Obama talking up Stimulus/Recovery Act projects and the huge middle-class tax cuts his administration has put in place over the last year. By the way, Dems need a major PR blitz on these issues--why we cede the "cutting taxes" line to the Republicans is beyond me, especially since the Bush tax cuts mostly benefited the wealthiest Americans and helped create the massive deficit they're suddenly so concerned about. We also need major damage control to defeat the "the stimulus failed" meme; imperfect as the bill may have been, the fact remains that it very likely kept a lot of cops, teachers and road workers out of the unemployment line. Without it, there's little doubt that unemployment would be much higher and state and local governments would have fewer resources to deal with that burden.

The export-oriented language was good to hear, though I do have some concerns. Obviously it's desirable to shoot for more American exports, thus creating more jobs here at home. Ending corporate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas is a common-sense policy we should have been pursuing years ago. (It was a major applause line for Dems, but GOP Inc. stayed silent and seated. To any conservative Tea Party readers, that should tell you everything you need to know about who really cares about saving American jobs.) However, I would have liked to hear more about fundamental trade reform. If we really want to bring back some manufacturing jobs, we have to renegotiate NAFTA (as he promised during the campaign) and we need to use our leverage in the WTO to make trade fair. That means no more child labor, uniform environmental restrictions and labor laws comparable to those of the U.S. and Europe. President Obama did mention a lack of enforcement in the current trade agreements, so hopefully we'll be moving in a positive direction.

The spending freeze? I'm skeptical. The cynical part of me says it's a gimmick that plays too much into the Republican narrative. On the other hand, it is true that our deficits are a serious problem--though it's blatant hypocrisy for Republicans to blame Obama for the deficits they built over eight long years. Yes, the stimulus is a big part of it, but that's what we call emergency spending--and it would have been a lot more manageable if we hadn't already been in a big hole. Regardless, I do admit that we need to address the deficit or it will eventually bankrupt us. So let's build roads, pay teachers, and create a better health care system, but let's pay for those things with real money.

As for McDonnell's response...*yawn*. It was standard Republican trope after standard Republican trope. It's as if Bob studied "Reaganomics 4 Dummies" flash cards before he went into the GOP-only HoD Chamber last night. He might as well have just yelled out "Drill, Baby, Drill!" over and over again--by the way, did anybody else get a really ominous feeling when his General Assembly colleagues got so excited about oil drilling off Virginia's coast? I hope they realize that one accident would turn our fisheries into toxic sludge and destroy our coastal tourism.Oh, and McDonnell's comment about defeating terrorists instead of protecting them was simplistic, jingoistic, inflammatory, and dishonest. For a governor to spout such nonsense on a national stage is inexcusable.

Although I guess it's pretty cool that a Virginia governor has given the SOTU response twice in the last four years. Anyway, I'm breaking my promise about a short post.

UPDATE: Rep. Tom Perriello nails it in his response to the State of the Union address:

“Tonight, I heard our President talk about jobs. I heard our Governor talk about jobs. I won’t stop until we turn this talk into real action and results for working families.

A year ago, we took dramatic steps to stop the bleeding and we’re starting to see the signs of recovery. Now we must be the change we promised by getting lending going to our small businesses, investing in our transportation infrastructure, and educating our workforce. It’s time to change our economic strategy from speculation on Wall Street to job creation on Main Street.

America can out-compete any country in the world if we reward innovation instead of failure, get our fiscal house in order, and restore the promise of the middle class.” (My emphasis)

Well said, Tom.

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