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Posted at 10:40 AM ET, 01/25/2011

What the speech has done already

By Ezra Klein

The president won't give his annual State of the Union address until later tonight, but in an important way, the speech has already worked. For the past week or so, news report after news report has dutifully relayed the argument the president is planning to offer tonight: America needs to be competitive going forward, and to be competitive going forward, it needs to invest in things like infrastructure, R&D and education, not just reduce the deficit.

And it's...worked. The conversation has changed. We've stopped just talking about deficits and begun talking about investments. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was on "Meet the Press" on Sunday fretting that the word "invest" is mere code for "more spending." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed him on "Fox News Sunday." “With all due respect to our Democratic friends, any time they want to spend, they call it investment," he said.

A political consultant once told me that the essence of a good message is that it has to turn the conversation over to something popular that you support and -- even more crucially -- that your opponents don't support. A good speech full of high platitudes doesn't do much for you in the long run, because so long as the other side agrees with your platitudes, voters have no reason to prefer you to them. A good speech that focuses the public's attention on things that they and you support and the other party doesn't is much more valuable, as it sets up a conversation in which voters can learn that they prefer your vision to the other guy's.

In some ways, the danger for Democrats was that Republicans would've let the call for investment pass without a peep, agreeing in general even as the House never moved any of the money. But they're peeping plenty. It looks like we're going to have an argument over investment in this country, not just over deficit reduction. Obama will get to present his case that economic leadership requires investing in infrastructure and education and research, as well as cutting the deficit, and Republicans will be able to make their argument that the strategy should be pretty much all cuts. And that's exactly what the White House was hoping for.

By Ezra Klein  | January 25, 2011; 10:40 AM ET
 
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Next: Spending cuts as culture war

Comments

Shut up Ezra.

Posted by: Jsuf | January 25, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Assuming you're right, and I think you are, if nothing else it may force the Democrats and Republicans to work together just a little more toward some solutions, because the electorate has already seen a glaring positive example in the lame duck session where both sides worked together with very positive results. So just maybe both sides may think that perhaps they might at least have to work a little harder in comity because the public is watching and wants it to happen again.

Posted by: sbaloanspecialist | January 25, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The White House brain trust better have something more up its sleeve than simply using the word replace feature in MS Office. What was the return on our "investment" in Economic Stimulus? It was negative. Investment is spending and everyone knows it.

Posted by: mad_tiger | January 25, 2011 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Good points. I'm glad to see the WH is finally taking messaging seriously.

Posted by: stella12 | January 25, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

This is an important discussion. We need to cut what can be cut without damaging what we need for the future. There's a lot of talk about family budgets reducing in hard times. But it's one thing to go out to eat less often and another thing to sell you car. The first is discretionary and the second is an investment in your future earnings.

As for the economic stimulus, there were two demonstrated benefits. First, it stopped the free fall. Second, it propped up state governments keeping teachers, fireman, and policemen working in a time of critical need. Without the stimulus, the financial crisis would have continued to worsen and set off immediate fiscal catastrophes in a number of states.

Posted by: jwhawthorne | January 25, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Well mad_tiger, why don't you ask the governor of Texas about the return on investment? After repeatedly blasting the Stimulus money he took great bunches of it to plug the holes in his budget, and Texas is still $27 billion in debt.

Speaking of frugal Republicans, how is it that Texas is so deep in debt when its Governor and legislature have been hyper-Republican for years and years.

But you don't even need as far as Texas, mad_tiger. The Republicans held the Presidency and both houses of Congress for six years not so long ago and did diddly-squat to save money. On the contrary, they started a war or two and cut taxes for the wealthy at the same time.

What 10-letter word starting with "R" means "hypocrite"?

Posted by: willythekorn | January 25, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The choice between investing in our infrastructure and letting it crumble is a false one. So is the choice between budget cuts and deficits.

The wealthy and the corporations in this country are sitting on trillions. All we need to do is sell the entire infrastructure to the private sector and force all drivers to have transponders or GPS in their cars. Every driver gets charged by whoever's road or bridge they travel. Meanwhile, public sector debts are alleviated by the purchase of the infrastructure and the need no longer to maintain it. AND the corporations will have a record of where each of our citizens is at every minute of the day, enabling some wonderful targeted marketing.

C'mon, Republicans. We all want this Utopia, propose it already.

Posted by: DavidinCambridge | January 25, 2011 12:04 PM | Report abuse

mad_tiger said: "Investment is spending and everyone knows it."

Well, duh. So what's your point?

Posted by: nicekid | January 25, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

This makes me wonder what might have happened if the President had used his bully pulpit a bit more in the last couple years. There's no reason why talking about infrastructure spending had to wait until after the midterms; it's not as if our crumbling physical and disappointing digital infrastructure was just discovered in late 2010.

Posted by: evvywevvy | January 25, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

So instead of reaching out to the other side in the spirit of compromise in the wake of Tucson, Obama is spitting in Republican eyes and defiantly going his own way. So much for the new spirit of compromise in Washington, and so much for that Tucson speech. What a fraud.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | January 25, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Please read "Hot, Flat and Crowded" by Thomas Friedman if you want to hear more about the investements needed to keep up with global competition. Clean energy, information technology, education, and "clean" infrastructure are keys to retaining our leadership in the world.

By the way, what part of cutting government spending (obviously a good thing) will create jobs? JOBS is the number one issue, not the deficit.

Letting the Bush tax cuts expire in two years, for all, is the single thing we can do to address the deficit in a significant way. Drastic cuts in government spending sounds good, but it will have a terrible effect on the fragile economy right now. The economy should be in much better shape in two years so the tax increase, returning us to the same structure that we had under Clinton, should be OK.

Also, winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will reduce a very large chunk of government spending.

As a state government official, I see the benefits of the stimulus every day, and as they dwindle down it is causing state and local government to make drastic cuts. The stimulus kept that from happening last year and the year before while the recession was at its worst. Those that decry the stimulus as ineffective obviously do not know what they are talking about.

Posted by: mandelm2001 | January 25, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

so obama is suggesting that we can reduce the deficit while still delivering a good level of services.

sounds to me he is adopting the conservative view that government needs to do more with less.

a good way to get elected, especially after the tax payers latest verdict.

Posted by: dummypants | January 25, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Jsuf,

Real intelligent comment. You must be an O'Reilly Republican. Afraid to discuss the issues honestly.

Only fools would believe we don't need to invest in education, transportation, and R&D, no matter which party.

Posted by: ladodger | January 25, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Obama wants to finally focus on Jobs?

He'll have to undo most of the crap he and his accomplices have inflicted on America for the last 2 years.

Posted by: thejames1225 | January 25, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

If anyone can tell me how one can invest in something without sacrificing either hard work or capital, I'd like to hear it.

"taxpayers" can never be counted upon to make solid, long-term decisions because they are driven by whatever circumstances they face AT THAT MOMENT.

Knowing the capriciousness of this model of personal behavior, it would be incumbent on the Republicans to remember that we are getting our butts whipped globally by poor people who are really smart. Being rich, but stupid is a sure way not to stay rich for very long.

If we don't know more than our competitors do, we are at a disadvantage. If we don't have better tools than our competitors use, we are at a disadvantage. If we don't plan for a little further down the road than our competitors plan, we are at a disadvantage.

Stopping the country from moving forward is not progress and no nation keeps it's competitive edge when it stops improving on that edge.

Posted by: joecairo | January 25, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

"Isn't Obama just dreamy? Eleventy!!!!"
- Ezra Klein, on EVERYTHING BO-related.

Posted by: bzod9999 | January 25, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

When you are running a small business and the money gets tight, you have only a few limited choices of things to do in order to keep your doors open.

Certainly cutting your labor costs and the costs of maintaining an adequate inventory are things a business owner can do.

But those aren't always the first things you do. The very first concern for any struggling business...or country...is to increase sales.

You need to FIRST do everything humanely possible to increase revenue.

Most businesses and countries get into trouble when they stop taking in more than they have to spend. Anything that furthers the drying up revenue is extremely counterproductive.

Here's another lesson from small business...restaurant small business. When times get tough and you have to make purchasing decisions which could affect what you charge for your product ( a porterhouse steak, for an example) your choices are to either raise your sell price and keep your quality high OR buy a cheaper grade in order to keep your sell price the same as it is right now.

Customers don't like it when you raise your price...but they UNDERSTAND that it happens. They also don't like it when your quality goes down and you become inconsistent in offering good value. That, they DON'T understand.

Better to keep your quality higher than the next guy and raise your price than lower your standards to everyone else's level and keep your price as it is.

QUALITY IS ALWAYS THE BEST VALUE...(he shouted from the rooftop).

Thus, it should be for a nation, struggling to stay ahead of the wolfpack of competitors who LOVE the direction we are taking, descending spiral of malaise, shortsightedness and indifference to the future.

Posted by: joecairo | January 25, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

"...news report after news report has dutifully relayed the argument the president plans....." Look at what you are writing. Is this how the press of a free nation should operate?

Posted by: truck1 | January 25, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

The Birth of the new Keystone Cops

It behooves me as to how the new-brand, US House of Representatives Republicans are legislating.

1. They promise transparency and would allow the Democrats to offer amendments and debate. What a joke…. Today they offered a one page bill to cut the deficit to spend to 2008 levels without outlining any numbers. That means that no funding for Homeland security 2,000 jobs, boarder security 2,600 troops, FBI anti terrorist taskforce 7,000 agents and roll back tax credits to new businesses.and above all no healthcare spending.

2. They want to vote on this bill before Congressional Budget Office scores their one page bill. They are acting like the Keystone cops. What a joke… Representative Paul Ryan, has a goal to pass this bill and respond to the president State of The Union speech tonight. But there are three things wrong with this picture A)Three days of transparency; B)No Numbers to debate; and C) No public hearings and they have completely forgot about FY 2011 Budget.

3. The Republicans had a long time to come up with workable solutions, that; make sense, lawful, reduce the budget, and does not impact the economy; increase job creation, and do not jeopardize our security. The spent those days telling lies about Afforeable Healthcare Act and ginning up their base.

4. The special interest within the beltway is pucking the newly-brand Republicans into an elephant trap’. The special interest now want action. The tea party will denounce their efforts when all of their one page proposals fall at Senators Reid’s feet. The public and media will unravel their plots and compare their actions to the famous Keystone Cops.

Posted by: nateminor | January 25, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

One of the proposed Republican budget cuts aims to eliminate all unspent stimulus funds. What they don't say is that the projects being funded include the Smart (electric) Grid, renewable energy, battery technology (that will be needed both for electric cars and for variable generation sources such as wind and solar), and energy efficiency. They also propose to kill the Energy Star program that encourages and brands energy efficiency in appliances and devices.

We have an oil crisis headed our way like a tsunami. We are entering the era of peak oil, in which the world supply of oil will permanently fall increasingly below demand. Multiple recent reports estimate the onset of the oil price skyrocketing will be within the next few years.

The proposed Republican budget cuts would have the effect of eliminating our ability to respond to this situation and without the technologies needed to mitigate the potential catastrophic effects on our economy and quality of life.

Posted by: StanKlein | January 25, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Why does this moron keep talking about the Sputnik moment? Does he think he's the President of Russia?

Posted by: martel732 | January 25, 2011 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Dear martel732, JFK was not a maroon, and either is BHO.

Post World War II, was a time in this country when our leading technology was equal to that of black and white televisions, crank telephones, no computers, rub boards, cobber stone streets, ice boxes, black and white movies, crew cut hair cuts, f-15 test fighter plane, apartheid institutions and 200 atomic bombs.

Back then, the Russians government was and still is a military threat to our homeland security. When the Russians government launched sputnik missile and payload, sparked the cold war and a race to the moon.

Our nation was six years behind the Russian government in missile and digital technology, jet propulsion engine, orbital science and moon landing deliverable vehicles. Our president at the time, vow to the American people that we will succeed ahead of the Russians government my landing a man on the moon.

From this space race came innovations such as the internet, digital and analog transistors, cell phones, solar cells technology and missile defense technology, just to name a few. So martel732, JFK was not a maroon, and either is BHO.

Posted by: nateminor | January 26, 2011 2:30 AM | Report abuse

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