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The State of the Union Obama should give

Steve Pearlstein writes the speech Obama should give tonight.

My fellow Americans, the state of our union is . . . well, quite wretched at the moment. As president, I owe you that honesty and candor.

It would be bad enough that we're stuck in an endless war against vicious terrorists or that we've just been through a financial crisis that wiped out a quarter of our wealth and left one in six adults without a job or underemployed, to say nothing of the fact that our planet is on the brink of an environmental calamity.

What's truly depressing, however, is that as a country we seem to have completely lost the will and the capacity to collectively confront these challenges. Our union has been torn asunder by a clash of ideologies and special interests and brigades of power-hungry partisans that has resulted in a paralyzing political stalemate. In response, our citizens have become angry, cynical, distrustful and dispirited.

Economists have long recognized that what distinguishes successful and wealthy countries from those that are poor and failing is not their natural endowments or even their level of human capital, but rather the quality of their institutions. By institutions, economists refer not only to governmental, business, educational and civic entities, but also the formal rules and informal protocols by which decisions are made, disputes are resolved, commerce is conducted and people interact. It was the quality of its institutions that led our country to become the richest, most powerful and most admired on the planet. Now the deterioration of those institutions threatens our standing in the world.

More here. I worry that after reading it, however, the real State of the Union will be a terrible letdown.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 27, 2010; 8:05 AM ET
 
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Comments

The rejection of Carter shows what happens when Presidents are honest.

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 27, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"Our union has been torn asunder by a clash of ideologies and special interests and brigades of power-hungry partisans that has resulted in a paralyzing political stalemate."

For someone complaining about the clash of ideologies and power-hungry partisans, that speech, on the whole, seems to take a pretty partisan tact.

And the rejection of Carter shows what happens when presidents do a bad job, seem to lack any real leadership skills, and a charismatic candidate with a strong message shows up to challenge them. Carter was doing pretty well in the pre-election polls up until the debates with Reagan started.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 27, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

You liked his repeated shilling for a total spending freeze and a deficit commission-- but "That will result in no net increases in federal taxes"?

Posted by: adamiani | January 27, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

My job can be pretty boring at times, but at least I don't have to watch the SOTU speech. I can safely predict that after delivering a few highfalutin banalities to start the speech, the President will launch into a laundry list of all the wonderful things he plans to do, and the Dems will applaud a lot.

Posted by: ostap666 | January 27, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

that would be a wonderful speech. bravo to steve pearlstein.

well, politics, life, luck, decisions change on a dime.
maybe tonight's speech will be the restoration of what we were all hoping for.
he must do everything he can to pass the health care reform bill...and he must guarantee his commitment to it tonight.
the fate and well being of so many people, the credibility of the democratic party, the bond with those who believed and supported him, the future of his administration...all depend on this bill getting passed.
i am praying that he will use his determination and courage to stand firmly behind the bill and get it passed.
then we can move forward.
but not before then.

president obama.
it is in within your grasp for the sake of so many people, to do the right thing.
you spoke during the election of your mother's last days, looking at the bills for her illness, she did not know what to do.
now is the time to act on behalf of other people, faced with the same situation....the people you represent.
who are depending on you.

do not lose your courage.
now is the moment to do the work that you must do.
it is not too late.
tonight can make the difference.
we are all faced with defining moments, when we must do the right thing.
tonight is your night to give us the leadership we desperately need at this moment.
yes you can!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: jkaren | January 27, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I think it will be a downer, but Obama has surprised us before.

thats the philly pessimism in me I guess.

Posted by: fiorehoffmann | January 27, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

*Our union has been torn asunder by a clash of ideologies and special interests and brigades of power-hungry partisans that has resulted in a paralyzing political stalemate*

You say that like it's a bad thing. There *should* be a clash of ideologies and special interests, and from that clash, we should decide which is the best one for solving our problems. The clash is not the problem. The problem is the inability to determine a winner and loser in that clash.

Somewhere along the line, it entered the public consciousness that "stalemate" and "gridlock" and "divided government" were actually good things. I think the test case of California has proven us wrong on that one.

Posted by: constans | January 27, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

"Economists have long recognized that what distinguishes successful and wealthy countries from those that are poor and failing is not their natural endowments or even their level of human capital, but rather the quality of their institutions."

Um, property rights??? Anyone? Bueller?

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | January 27, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one stunned by the almost historic levels of angst being felt by liberals and progressives right now?

My guess that this is the frustration of being "so close" with the presidency, and the Congress both in Democratic control.

But the angst is totally out of proportion with the circumstances, as problematic as they are. I suspect that this is what they call in the stock market a "sentiment extreme." But we'll see.

Listening to liberals - and progressive talk radio especially - you'd think that Obama was the worst president in history after 360 days in office. If that's not a "sentiment extreme", I don't know what is.

Posted by: burientopteam | January 27, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

constans,

I disagree with the second part of your statements. While there should be a clash of ideologies we shouldn't necessarily determine a winner and then give them "carte blanche" to do whatever they like. There's a reason that SCHIP worked and was bipartisan. There's a reason that COBRA works and its bipartisan. There's a reason that HIPAA works and its bipartisan. Its because it isn't too far left or too far right. Most Americans want government from the center. A good part of that is Republicans fault because they want political gain above good policy now but maybe that comes from where many of the Democrats started from (ie single payer).

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

There have been MANY Presidents who do a bad job and get re-elected. So it's not accurate to say Carter was rejected because of a bad job. Carter was defeated by an optimist (Reagan) who promised change from Carter's pessimism. Reagan then went on to do a bad job and then got re-lected because people liked him.

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 27, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

visiobrkr, here's the thing: Democrats were willing to bargain away single payer and a public option months ago in an effort to "govern from the center," but the Republicans want to govern from the right. Why? Because there is a wide consensus that "gridlock" is a good thing-- the same dynamic that exists in California. What actually happened was that one ideology -- the conservative one -- failed, and instead of accepting that, there was a feeling (abetted by Obama) that the answer was not to reject the failed ideology of the past but instead to encourage it. Clashes of ideologies aren't bad things. But if you're not willing to win in a clash, you're just encouraging the loser to hold out hope that gridlock will pay off.

Posted by: constans | January 27, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

He should take inspiration from Ferdinand Foch's words at the First Battle of the Marne, "Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack."

Posted by: VictorGalis | January 27, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe you think Perlstein's version is the best SOTU we could have (or maybe you have to shill for other WaPo columnists?). All that stuff about partisan gridlock makes it sound like both sides are equally at fault. Obama has to call out the Republicans and attach a political price to their childish behavior. And Perlstein's point about taxes and spending is straight out of McCain's playbook. Finally, I guess a 25 cent gas tax is incredibly bold in the DC context, but it's really extremely wimpy.

Posted by: RachelM2 | January 27, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Two words: Jimmy Carter.

Obama is too young to remember, but many of us aren't. He has to be positive and articulate a way forward to a better future. It's true we seem to be unraveling, but he can only talk about that as a contrast to where he wants to take the country.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 27, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

our versions of "center" are different and hence the problem.

I also dispute that the conservative one failed. We've never had a true conservative policy. If so i'd think we wouldn't tax as high as we do, have as much welfare as we do etc. We can go over this again but the mortgage bubble that caused all the issues was due (IMO) to people wrongly believing that the "American dream" of home ownership should be available to all irregardless of ones ability to pay an accompanying mortgage. Renting is not the "evil" that its made out to be over the last 5-10 years. You also shouldn't be able to mortgage your home 3x over up to 100+% of the value when the values are obviously inflated to begin with. Sure there are conservative tendancies that have exascerbated the problem (ie mortgage bankers selling ARM loans to people who shouldn't qualify and all the "no money down" idiotic infomercials that allowed Mary homemaker to believe she could be a real estate speculator) but in theory the practice of conservatism works fine (IMO).

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

@constans:

"Somewhere along the line, it entered the public consciousness that 'stalemate' and 'gridlock' and 'divided government' were actually good things. I think the test case of California has proven us wrong on that one."

Well, I might borrow a play from the Obama stimulus spin machine and ask, "Well, imagine how much worse California would be if there wasn't gridlock?"

And the conflicting ideologies in California may not be the best example. On the whole--in the actual government--it's a conflict between left-of-center and far, far left-of-center. There ain't a bigger rhinoceros in the Republican party than the Governator.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 27, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Pearlstein's State of the Union address is great because it is honest. If Obama sticks to an honest assessment of the country's biggest issues he won't fail.

Posted by: ideallydc | January 27, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

*Well, I might borrow a play from the Obama stimulus spin machine and ask, "Well, imagine how much worse California would be if there wasn't gridlock?"*

Probably a lot like other states that don't have the same dysfunctional dynamic. This is a testable hypothesis, you know== just look at places that don't have California's legal structures, and the logical choice is to conclude that it is the constitutional structure of CA that's the problem.

*On the whole--in the actual government--it's a conflict between left-of-center and far, far left-of-center. *

Kevin_Willis, I think you are heavily, heavily uninformed with respect to the political dynamics of California and are relying heavily on ignorant stereotypes that are fed to you. When you're a little more experienced and a little less naive, you'll have a better understanding, but the fact is that the gridlock in California created a dynamic where everyone just avoided dealing with the problems until they collapses, because there was no possible way of addressing them. In fact, California faces the same dynamic as the federal government does now: a recalcitrant right-wing minority that can block anything it wants at any time and a system that allows people to spend on popular items (in California, prisons and public services, in the federal government, war) while ensuring that taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances, so no one ever has to make any difficult decisions.

They do say that California is always the "trend setter" in the USA, so that looks like where we're headed.

Posted by: constans | January 27, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Just to back up constans a bit, there *are* actually Republicans in California, and enough of them in the legislature that they can block tax increases, which require a 2/3 majority vote. No new taxes plus unfunded initiatives passed by the voters leads to fiscal nightmare.

Posted by: MosBen | January 27, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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