Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

President Obama's second Oval Office address leaves much to be desired

This evening, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation in his second address from the Oval Office, announcing an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began in March of 2003 when George W. Bush unwisely ordered American troops to invade and occupy Iraq on false pretenses.

The nineteen minute address seemed to have three parts. The first acknowledged the price America has paid for invading Iraq, both in blood and treasure. The second was a defense of the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan. And the third was a reminder — as if anyone needed one — that our economy is still mired in a recession, and that many working families are without living wage jobs.

The highlight for me was this particular passage, which soberly linked the occupation of Iraq to the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush error:
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.
Conversely, the part of the speech I disliked the most was the line, "Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security."

No one? Sorry, but my generosity has limits. I am unwilling to whitewash the past. I disagree with President Obama on all three counts.

I question George Bush's love of country — his patriotism — because he questioned mine while he occupied the White House. No true American patriot would suggest (as Bush and his cronies did) that those who oppose the policies of a particular administration are anti-American.

A real patriot prizes dissent, and doesn't fly the emblem of their political party above the Stars and Stripes, as Bush and his followers did.

A real patriot, in a position of serious responsibility, doesn't crack jokes like, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

I question George Bush's support for the troops because he sent our soldiers into battle without proper gear, and neglected to ensure quality care was provided for our servicemembers when they returned stateside. And he didn't bother to attend the funerals of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, because he had better things to do. Like clearing brush at his ranch in Crawford.

George Bush never demonstrated a commitment to our security (lip service doesn't count), so there's nothing to even question there. The Bush error left America more insecure in every respect. Bush's policies weakened our military, our government, our environment, our economy, our health and well being, our workforce, and our international standing. The damage Bush and his cronies inflicted is still being repaired, more than a year and a half into President Obama's term.

I understand that the President wants to move on. Bury the hatchet, so to speak. Leave the past in the past. Unfortunately, as the old adage goes, we are doomed to repeat history when we forget it. That's why we at NPI, like many other progressives, have no intention of ever forgetting the Bush error and the destruction it wrought upon our country.

At the same time, we want to move on as well. But, curiously, the President did not use his speech to look forward. Instead, his remarks dwelled on the present. The address was chock full of the same platitudes and generalities we regularly hear from the White House and from Congress. Nobody is against the generic and undefined platform of job creation, reform, and efficiency. Nobody is against "unleash[ing] the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurtur[ing] the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs."

The best intentions do no good if they are not backed up with action. Where is the concrete plan for getting Americans back to work? Why didn't the President at least talk about the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010, which Senate Republicans are currently holding up?

Americans already know that these are tough times. What Americans want to hear from Barack Obama is, how do we escape this slump? What, specifically, is being done to spur lending, keep tuition from becoming unaffordable, and protect public services at the state and local levels? How is Wall Street's greed being checked? Those are the kinds of questions Americans are asking and want answered.

The President could do a lot of good by developing and articulating a new strategy for economic recovery. It's time to throw in the towel and abandon the current plan, which isn't working. The President did not do a good job of choosing his economic team, which is a serious problem, because the Great Recession has been and continues to be America's worst enemy.

In particular, Larry Summers (the Director of the White House National Economic Council) shares part of the blame for grinding down the New Deal-era firewall, which could have blunted the severity of the financial crisis.

How can the President talk about not giving back the keys to the country to the architects of the collapse when he himself has already done so by allowing Summers to chart his administration's economic policy?

The President needs to start listening to respected economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and stop relying on Larry Summers' bad advice, which has resulted in dithering and inaction. Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner need to be fired and replaced with sharper minds who can provide sound advice.

And the President needs to start writing his own speeches so he can deliver a more cogent and heartfelt message when he speaks to the nation during primetime.


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