At TNR today, TDS Co-Editor William Galston offers President Obama a template for a State of the Union Address designed to assess honestly his first year in office, and signal a relentless focus on economic revival for his second year.
In Galston’s “Dream State of the Union Address,” the President would explain his interventions in the financial system, and the economic stimulus package, as “economic rescue” measures, while also defending the high priority he placed on health care reform in terms of the huge impact of health care costs on the economy. Then comes the “pivot” to the road ahead:
But the issue before us right now is no longer economic rescue; it is economic growth—the right kind of growth—growth that produces jobs, rising wages, and opportunities for advancement. That will be my administration’s principal domestic focus—for the coming year, and for as long as it takes until every American who wants work can find a job with a future.
During the coming year, that goal means, first, that we must assist states and localities so that they are not forced to fire hundreds of thousands of workers; second, that we must offer the private sector effective incentives to hire new workers; and third, that we must create a national infrastructure bank that will mobilize public and private resources to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, and ports . . . and boost investment in the environment and information technology as well.
Moving to longer-range economic challenges, Galston recommends that Obama endorse a strong commission with the power to recommend long-term fiscal savings steps, along with comprehensive tax reform. And on a subject of visceral importance to many voters, he suggests that Obama talk very tough on financial regulation:
Finally, we must make sure that our nation’s largest financial institutions use their power and privilege to help build our country, not to line their own pockets. Congress must overhaul our system of financial regulation—this year—to make sure that what happened in 2007 and 2008 never happens again. And let me be clear: These institutions owe their profitability—and their very existence—to the steps we took that put your taxpayer dollars at risk. If they choose to ignore their responsibilities to you and once again award themselves huge bonuses, I will work with the Congress to ensure that they change course. If they’re not willing to invest their profits in our country’s future, I’ll work to redirect these resources to institutions that are working, not just for themselves, but for you. Holy Scripture and common sense are at one: Greed is not good.
Exercises like Galston’s provide an apt reminder of the power of the bully pulpit, if properly utilized, as an agenda-setter for the nation. Whether or not Obama follows something like Galston’s template, he needs to use that bully pulpit aggressively this year, beginning with his State of the Union Address.