If the Barack Obama “Re-Seduction” Tour began last week, then his budget speech yesterday was wine and flowers showing up at the door of Democratic constituents across the nation. Obama’s speech seemed to galvanize the leftwing, satisfy the center and remind the right as to why they have hated him since the day he declared he was running. Which if you’re keeping score, is a pretty good series of reactions to a speech that lays out the groundwork for the next 18 months of campaigning. As to the specifics of the speech, well, that’s where there might be some problems.
The largest problem with the speech may have nothing to do with President Obama specifically but more so the whole nature of the current debate in Washington. The budget battle is framed in terms of which cuts to make, not whether or not cuts need to be made in general. To that end, the discussion is always on the terms that Republicans want, which is a problem for Democrats and the president.
The negatives of the speech specifically were classic Obama, beautiful words and a lack of detail. To be fair, the president doesn’t have to give a line by line description of how he’s going to cut $4 billion from the federal budget to scale back the debt, but at the same time he should say something about the biggest areas where the United States can cut. Obama was rather vague on military cuts, one of the largest portions of our current debt, which is frustrating to fiscal junkies on the left and the right. Equally bothersome was Obama’s refusal to discuss the most dire aspect of our current financial debt as a nation, which is not so much spending as it is our inability to collect taxes from the wealthiest in this country.
Over the last few weeks the news cycle was occasionally interrupted by two equally distressing stories: That two of the largest companies in the United States of America, General Electric and Federal Express pay little or nothing in taxes.
How can the president or anyone have a serious discussion about debt reduction and cutting spending without also discussing how we should be making sure that corporations are paying the taxes they are supposed to be paying to begin with? This oversight, no mention of ending loopholes for big corporations and hunting down tax cheats along with the wishy-washiness on military spending were the two low points in what otherwise was a darn good speech by the president for lefties.
President Obama somehow figured something out yesterday. That he had the right to say “No.” This is apparently a new discovery for a president who in the past has demonstrated that his negotiating skills began and ended with having sand kicked in his face and his lunch money taken.
The president recognized that saying, in no uncertain terms that he would NOT scuttle Healthcare, he would not privatize Medicare that he would NOT extend the Bush tax cuts again and that government programs in clean energy and education would remain fairly untouched was impressive to say the least. Further I am impressed anytime when a president specifically acknowledges class inadequacies in this nation.
“Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined,” he said. “The top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.”
Now of course President Obama gave himself his typically infuriating wiggle room from every wonderful promise he made in his speech.
“I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum,” he said.
But overall it seems clear that he’s finally found his voice, or at least re-found the voice that made people fall all over themselves for him back in 2008. With forthcoming battles over the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget looming he’s going to need all the outside help he can get.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “Obama’s Budget Speech Shows He’s Getting His Groove Back.”