Last night, the President gave a speech asking Congress to pass the new “American Jobs Act” which will borrow another $500 billion dollars to “create jobs.” But don’t worry: after we borrow this money, the Super-Committee that is required to find 1.5 trillion in cuts will just find an additional half trillion — to pay back the money we are borrowing to create jobs. What? You’re worried that this super-committee might not be able to agree on 1.5 trillion (let alone 2 trillion)? Don’t worry. It will happen. The plan will create jobs and it is fully paid for (in borrowed money).
Of course, we know that this is just another stimulus. What was the first stimulus of 800 billion for if not to boost employment in order to jump start the economy? Remember all the talk about “shovel-ready” jobs that Obama later admitted don’t exist? Thus, the American Jobs Act is just a doubling-down on a failed plan. The unstated premise of the speech was that “The first stimulus wasn’t big enough.” Thanks, Krugman.
More interesting to me though, was the Democratic response to the speech: lots of progressives are saying that “This is the Obama we have been waiting to see! Angry, tough, activist. Huzzah!” This is interesting because like so many of Obama’s speeches, it was completely reactionary/reactive. The whole speech was calibrated to preempt certain types of responses from Obama’s political enemies.
Examples: “The question [facing us] is whether we can stop the political circus,” “There should be nothing controversial about this legislation,” “Everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.”, “It’s not just Democrats who have supported this type of proposal,” “This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare.”, “What I won’t do is let this crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections Americans have relied on for decades,” “[I reject] this larger notion that we [should] just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they are on their own.”
There are lots of other examples peppered throughout the speech, but this list is representative: they all allude (with varying degrees of distortion and dismissiveness) to the positions of his political opponents, who (as usual) are implicitly demonized as unpatriotic, divisive, self-interested, ignorant zealots and “carnival barkers.” What this means is that for all the talk about Obama getting tough, he is still on the defensive (in every sense of the word). Defense, in whatever context, is reactive. I think that the supporters of the President want to see an active rather than a reactive leader. Somehow, (it bewilders me), they see that active orientation in this speech.
Part of the reason that Obama is chronically unable to overcome his tendency towards reactive politics is his sophomoric proclivity for political meta-commentary. He just cannot help but vent his resentment at the fact that he has had some difficulty passing certain proposals through the Congress. At every step, he must pontificate on the toxicity of our political discourse: he notes that toxicity, and then explains that the only way to actively reject that toxicity is to pass whatever happens to be the comprehensive reform o’ the week.
A suggestions for the President and his people (not that this suggestion will ever reach him): by refusing to comment on the political climate, the President could show that he is above it. He always tries to TELL us he is above it, and that is the problem — in saying “I’m above this petty squabbling of you (fill in the blank) people,” one PARTICIPATES in the petty squabbling. This is why Obama is mired in reactive politics. It reminds me of Nietzsche’s victim of slave morality — the reactive man who only knows how to look at what he does not have or cannot do and lashes out in resentment.
We need the active man: Rubio/Ryan 2012: