Reaction to President Obama's Speech, A Tiny Step Forward

Sep 9, 2011

Well, the week is over, and it’s time for a little quiz. First of all, who said last night: “It’s time to stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.“

Not surprisingly, that was President Obama, in his nationally televised speech on jobs. Okay, now, who said this a few minutes later: “We are in a crisis, and cannot afford to waste time on unproductive political posturing and partisan fighting.

“It’s time to make the tough decisions needed to reinvent the United States.” This time, that wasn‘t the president, but our own Republican governor, Rick Snyder. His response to the president’s speech sounded much more cooperative than confrontational.

And that attitude might just contain a tiny sliver of hope. Now, I know that Rick Snyder is not Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Nor does every Michigan Republican think the same.

Even while the president was attempting to rally everyone around the nation’s desperate jobs situation, Macomb County Congressman Candice Miller took the occasion to endorse Texas Governor Rick Perry for president, with a passing swipe at “the Obama record of a crushing burden of government debt.”

Her colleague Tim Walberg, perhaps the most far right of the state’s Republicans, issued a typical press release denouncing the President for “more spending, more regulation, more government-centered stimulus,” in words that appear to have been written before he saw or read the speech.

However, the reaction elsewhere was more thoughtful. Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said words to the effect that there might be something good in the President’s plan, though he stopped far short of endorsing it. Actually, I had expected that the President’s speech would do little except elicit knee-jerk partisan responses in our state as across the nation. I feared the President’s job message would end up only being campaign fodder for both sides.

But the reaction seems to be different, at least for now. I think there are two reasons for this. First, the president’s speech was mostly not another borrow-and-spend stimulus plan. Instead, it promoted cutting payroll taxes for small businesses, something Republicans can hardly oppose. It also more than hinted at a willingness to rein in Medicare costs, something many Democrats would see as heresy. It was a genuine plea for a bipartisan approach. The president also wisely refrained from promising that it would create any specific number of jobs, though an economist for Moody’s put it at close to two million.

But besides that, it is clear that members of both parties are starting to get genuinely scared. Not only has the aftermath of this recession been a mostly “jobless” recovery, there has been precious little recovery, and in August, there were no new jobs whatever.

While voters are increasingly angry and disillusioned with the president, there is no sign they think much of the Republicans, either, and desperate people have been known to unleash scary forces.

If this speech somehow nudges both parties toward suspending the circus and cooperating to get  people working again, we’ll all be enormously better off.

The politicians, perhaps, most of all.