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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Progressives Voice Concerns About SOTU

It’s unlikely that anyone at 1600 PA Ave. will lose much sleep about the left critique of Obama’s SOTU speech, and the white house is understandably euphoric about glowing reviews of the President’s state of the union address. In a CNN/Opinion Research survey, 84 percent of those who watched the speech liked Obama’s address; and 52 percent responded “very positively.” A CBS News/Knowlege Networks poll indicated 91 percent favored the president’s proposals.
But progressive critics nonetheless made some good points that merit consideration, mostly having to do with what was not said.
The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Scheer offered the left’s most acerbic review, saying,

I had expected Barack Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble….The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole. Instead, the president conveyed the insular optimism of his fat-cat associates…

American Prospect editor-at-large and WaPo columnist Harold Meyerson raised an omission I wondered about:

If we’re going to rewrite our corporate tax code, why don’t we rewrite it to reward those companies that employ workers at good jobs here at home?…Why can’t our tax laws discriminate between those companies that both develop and manufacture their products here and those that go abroad for cheaper labor?…We can at least use tariffs and taxes to reward those corporations that invest at home and penalize those that disinvest in this nation’s future. …That carrot and stick is what’s missing from the president’s commendable-as-far-as-they-go proposals.

Open Left’s Mike Lux had a mostly favorable review of SOTU, calling it “a solid, steady performance,” but with some pointed concerns:

…There also were some anti-progressive, irritating moments, too: screwing consumers on medical malpractice, screwing government workers with a wage freeze, screwing us all with the five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending (which is actually at least a 7 percent cut if you factor inflation in).

Yesterday the Washington Post weighed in with an editorial taking the President to task for not even mentioning gun control, despite having the family of Christina Taylor Green, the nine-year old girl murdered in Tucson sitting with the first lady:

The lack of urgency is appalling. How many more tragedies must occur before the president is moved to act? How many more stricken families will be forced to sit through Washington dog-and-pony shows while those with the power to stem the violence do nothing?

To be fair, some leading progressives had a more positive reaction, including New Republic senior editor John B. Judis, who called the 2011 SOTU Obama’s “best speech as president.” And MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who echoed some of Ed Kilgore’s take, credited the President with “wrenching the center back from the right” and “stopping the country’s rightward drift.”
It may be that President Obama does intend to address all or some of the aforementioned progressive concerns with reform proposals. It’s not always good strategy to state absolutely everything you want or plan to do in one SOTU speech. I just hope he does plan to push forward a saner firearms policy and some of the carrots and sticks to keep jobs in the U.S. Meyerson noted.
Few would doubt, however, that the schitzy conservative response to the President’s address — Ryan’s uninspiring, visionless view of the possibilities ahead and Bachman’s weird, blundering screed — was a mess. Compared to that, at least, progressive and moderate Dems should have no trouble agreeing that President Obama won the day.

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