This coming week the President will address a joint session of Congress and the nation concerning his plans to revive an economy that has, for all intents and purposes, stalled. In every way imaginable it will be the most important speech of his presidency and might well end up determining whether he will be a two-term president or another Jimmy Carter.
In my humble (yeah, right!) opinion neither option is viable. For one thing, giving into the deficit hawks now would virtually guarantee a Republican win in 2012. Massive cuts during economic downturns almost always lead to higher unemployment numbers, which of course reinforces the GOP narrative that this President has badly mismanaged this economy. Furthermore, due to the increase in unemployment, it actually has the unintended consequence of increasing the deficit, which also feeds the narrative of the wingnuts who are obsessed with this insane notion that deficit spending and not the sub-prime mortgage bubble is what caused the recession in the first place; an assertion that can be easily disproved by anyone with access to a computer and a functioning brain.
But if succumbing to his lesser angels on the Right is out, equally impossible and politically suicidal would be any attempt at replicating a grand FDR approach. Sorry, kids, the time to go New Deal was back in the first 90 days of his administration, when Obama had the opportunity – not to mention the political capital – to put in place a true stimulus; one that would’ve had the effect of jump-starting an economy on life support. As I have said on more than one occasion, that ship has sailed. He settled on $787 billion because he thought that was all he could get through a skeptical and resistant Congress. Now, as they say, he has to lie in the bed he has made for himself.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t go out and get some new sheets. So this is what I think he should do. Since it is a given that anything he says or does will be met with extreme resistance by the Republicans, it’s time to be bold.
First off, start by taking away their thunder. Offer to lower the corporate tax rate (currently at 35% for the highest bracket) to a flat 15% across the board. But tie it to creation of new jobs in this country and, as a further enticement, if they open up new facilities here, their first year corporate tax rate would only be 10%. To make up the difference to the treasury, certain tax loopholes would be closed. Yep, you guessed it, revenue.
Secondly, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure! America’s roads and bridges are badly in need of repair and time is running out for many of them. The collapse of the bridge outside of Minneapolis four years ago last month underscores that fact. The longer we wait as a nation, the more expensive these repairs will be. With all the criticism over Obama’s stimulus, one of the bright spots was the work projects on various roads throughout the country. Unlike most of the projects, these were, for the most part, shovel-ready. Though not nearly sufficient to deal with all the nagging maintenance issues, the federal assistance was nonetheless responsible for employing thousands of workers in many states. In my own neck of the woods, stimulus funds were used for the repaving of both the Northern State Parkway and Long Island Expressway; the former had been in dire need of resurfacing for years.
In the Sierra Nevada’s there is a 40-mile stretch of I-80 that desperately needs repair work. The interstate has long had a troubled past during much of its 3,000 miles from New Jersey to California, but this particular stretch promises to be the most problematic. As it stands now it will cost approximately $400 million to complete the repairs to that area. However, if the road is allowed to completely deteriorate, the cost could well soar into the billions.
There are literally hundreds of similar stories out there – bridges on the brink of collapse, roads nearing the impassible stage – that cry out for workers to repair them. With state budgets already stretched thin, the only agency with the resources to do the job is the federal government. This isn’t make-work spending for the sake of spending. These repair projects will take years to complete and employ tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of workers in the process. And they must be done sooner rather than later. The President must make the case to the American people that it is fiscally prudent and morally responsible to tackle these projects now while they are somewhat manageable, before the consequences of delay end up proving to be fatal.
Next, the President must send a message to the business community that he is going to reassess some of the regulations that are on the books – particularly with respect to the environment – and, where permissible, suspend them. We have already seen evidence that this is happening. Just last week, the Administration halted an increase in clean air standards. Expect more of the same in an attempt to get a stubbornly high unemployment rate down below 9%. Right now, the priority is the economy; the environment will have to wait.
And finally, the President must stop showing his frustration over the recalcitrant obstructionism of his opponents and instead start emoting a more positive outlook. This isn’t to suggest that he should not go on the offensive and continue to highlight the differences between his bi-partisan approach and the “my way or the highway” approach of the Tea Party faction, but it’s time to stop sniveling and whining about his circumstances; circumstances that in all honesty he is at least partly to blame for bringing about.
In my line of work, attitude can go a long way. Customers hate it when you get defensive. They want to see that their salesperson has the ability and the confidence to take care of their needs. At the moment, Obama is acting very much like the proverbial salesman who has just found out his boss is going to honor a competitor’s price on a flat panel TV, thus reducing his commission. Well tough noogies, as they say. Deal with it!
Last Wednesday’s email to his supporters was pure sour grapes and showed a side of him he cannot afford to reveal. It’s one thing to show anger, it’s quite another to get flustered. And another thing: this president needs to stop using words like “we” and instead use words like “I” and “me.” “We” aren’t the President of the United States, he is. If he truly wants to be the next Truman, he can start by committing to memory that most famous of desk signs that reads: The Buck Stops Here!
Next week’s speech will be a turning point for Obama. If he nails it, he could go a long way towards making the case to the American people why he is the best choice to lead the nation out of the hole it is stuck in; if he flubs it, he will end up making the Republican’s case for change in 2012. As is par for the course, his fate is in his own hands.