09.10.11

7 Great Takes on Obama’s Job Speech

The Daily Beast parses the pundits’ responses to the president’s address to Congress and selects a sample of the best.

With unemployment hovering stubbornly above nine percent, President Obama laid out his $445 billion jobs plan to Congress on Thursday. From harsh critiques to euphoric praise, The Daily Beast rounds up some of the smartest takes on the pivotal speech.

Obama’s Fiery Jobs Sermon

President Obama’s strong words were “exactly the right place for the president and the administration to make their stand,” writes James Fallows in The Atlantic. Obama needs the strong words, Fallows argues, to deal with Congress’s refusal to compromise. He calls Obama’s refrain of “pass this bill” the “music” of the speech, writing that the approach is often used in religious sermons to engage the audience—similar to Obama’s famous “Yes We Can” campaign motto—and a “big improvement” over the president’s previous “passive-aggressive” tone of late. “If he goes down, at least he will have gone down trying to defend the right ground,” Fallows writes.

The President Channels His "Inner-Truman

Taking on a newly aggressive tone in Thursday night’s speech, the president seems to have channeled his “inner Truman,” writes Harold Evans at The Daily Beast. Indeed, Obama’s address to Congress came at a moment that mirrored the political climate of September 1948. Back then, Harry Truman was coming out of a miserable summer during which Republicans had hammered him on inflation and eaten away at his approval ratings. Truman’s solution? He proposed a set of policies, dared congressional Republicans to reject them, and when they did, he toured the country blaming the “do-nothing Congress” for the country’s problems. “He stopped his droning speeches and adopted a feisty, homey style,” Evans writes, comparing the strategy to Obama’s approach on Thursday. The result was an election outcome that would make David Axelrod rejoice: "He romped home with 303 electoral votes."

Clueless about Jobs

The president may be an intelligent man, but what Americans witnessed last night was a “profoundly depressing spectacle,” writes Reihan Salam in The Daily. Salam blasts Obama for not having the “faintest clue how to prevent our slow-motion slide” into economic depression. He attempts to poke holes in Obama’s major proposals, from the dicey math in extending and increasing the payroll tax cut, to the president’s amnesiac idea that infrastructure spending will stimulate the economy and his call for higher taxes on drilling new wells. Salam systematically—and rather harshly—dissects Obama’s main talking points to come to a single conclusion: if you were on the Obama train, get off immediately because he’s “moving the United States in the wrong direction.”

An irrelevant speech from an irrelevant president?

President Obama rose to the occasion to deliver a strong message on jobs to Congress—unfortunately, nobody really cared. Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post that Thursday night’s speech was a prime example of just how irrelevant many in Washington now consider the Obama administration. Lawmakers weren’t outwardly hostile to the president; they just didn’t put much stock into what he had to say.  For instance, House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden began the evening with a leisurely exchange about golf: “Seven birdies, five bogeys,” Boehner said. “You’re kidding me!” Biden replied. Doesn’t exactly set the mood before an impassioned presidential speech, does it? Milbank points to the relatively empty press room, the lack of a televised Republican response, and the president’s shrinking away from scheduling conflicts—moving the speech to a day after the GOP debate and an hour and a half before the NFL season opener—as more signs that the historic jobs speech was little more than a sideshow.

Saving His Own Job

President Obama’s speech before Congress was aimed at saving at least one job: his own. The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz called the president “forceful, almost angry, in his much ballyhooed speech to Congress.” According to Kurtz’s sources, Obama will take on the entire GOP if they refuse to pass his bill—because the president truly believes he has the American people on his side. In the speech, Obama was able to lay down the law, something that has often eluded him. “He started out like gangbusters, putting faces on the economic crisis, vowing to help veterans, teachers, construction workers, first responders, disadvantages youths, and the unemployed,” Kurtz writes. “But much of the public may have tuned him out, and if the net result is still more Washington gridlock, his nascent campaign may be stuck in the mud.”

Obama’s Eloquent, But Flawed, Defense of Government

President Obama’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. The New Republic’s John B. Judis writes that while Obama gave the best speech of his presidency—it was a direct plea to Congress and an “eloquent defense of government”—the president faltered in three key ways. First, Judis says that Obama wasn’t bold enough in declaring that without government spending, the economy can’t recover. Second, the president muddled what Judis considered the strongest moment of his speech: the reason for the communitarian approach, or government as national action. Finally, Judis writes that Obama failed to acknowledge that the current crisis is not a national one—it’s international. The U.S. economy can’t rise while Europe and the Asian markets sink.

Stimulus for Skeptics

Count David Brooks among the reluctant supporters of President Obama’s jobs plan. Writing in the New York Times, Brooks calls himself a “stimulus skeptic” and points to the flaws in the president’s various proposals. Temporary tax cuts don’t create jobs, the lead time for infrastructure projects is usually too long, and job subsidies tend to go to companies that would have hired the people anyway. “In short,” writes Brooks, “the administration is putting forth a package to prevent a double-dip recession that may not come to pass with a series of measures that may not work.” Still, the alternative – watching passively as the economy creeps toward another potential recession – is bad enough to spur support for the president’s centrist plan – even for a conservative like Brooks: “Personally, my bottom line is this: I think the president has earned a second date.”