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Posted at 10:51 PM ET, 01/25/2011

After SOTU, I'm stirred but not shaken

By Matt Miller

"Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words ... if you're in love, show me!"
-- Eliza Doolittle

I'm always hopeful on State of the Union night, and always disappointed. President Obama was stirring in his call to renew the American dream in an era when we need to raise our game. But his proposals don't come close to shaking up the status quo in ways that can make good on his vision.

Take education, the key to the future, where everyone knows teachers matter most. If this really were a Sputnik moment, the president wouldn't merely implore young Americans to "become a teacher" because "your country needs you." He'd vow to make teaching the most attractive profession in America for talented young people, the way top-performing school systems in Singapore, Finland and South Korea do. On our current course, we'll instead end Obama's first term (and any second term) still recruiting teachers from the bottom two-thirds of college classes, and from the bottom third for high-poverty schools, while serious nations offer the training, pay and prestige that lures top talent to the classroom, with superior results.

Or take the long-term deficit mess. A domestic spending freeze that saves $400 billion over 10 years grabs headlines and sounds big. But government will spend $45 trillion over that period, so we have a bold call to shave less than 1 percent from projected federal spending. "Painful"? You decide.

There's plenty more in this vein. I love Obama's vision and wish I could believe. But between his speech, and Rep. Paul Ryan's pinched response, the truth remains this: Neither party has a political strategy that includes solving the country's biggest problems. Both major parties have strategies for winning elections while pretending to solve them, which is something very different. The historian Richard Hofstadter argued that the role of third-party movements in America is to sting like a bee and then die -- because after proving a big enough constituency exists for needed reform, their agenda gets co-opted. Let the stinging begin...

By Matt Miller  | January 25, 2011; 10:51 PM ET
Categories:  Miller  | Tags:  Matt Miller  
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Next: Obama's State of the Union Address reframed the debate

Comments

I couldn't agree more, especially with the part about "Neither party has a political strategy that includes solving the country's biggest problems." I wrote a similar op-ed on this for the Huffington Post 2 weeks ago: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-kirsch/a-country-without-a-plan_b_804315.html

It was disappointing how we ALREADY have a GREAT clean power technology (the IFR), yet there is no mention of this investment (it was the largest investment DOE has ever made) in the SOU speech. Instead, Obama is ignoring this. We cannot keep ignoring the great technology our best scientists spent decades perfecting if we want to be leaders.

Posted by: SteveKirsch | January 26, 2011 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Steve, for those of us without the decoder ring, what is "the IFR"?

Posted by: turningfool | January 26, 2011 2:08 AM | Report abuse

Q: How can you tell when a politician's lying?

A: She's moving her lips.

Posted by: theFieldMarshall | January 26, 2011 7:04 AM | Report abuse

Integral Fast Reactor. Basically, a nuclear plant that eats nuclear waste from earlier generations of nuclear reactors and produces a much smaller quantity of much less-nasty waste. It was killed in 1994. Wait, what else happened in 1994 that has a bearing on domestic spending initiatives? Tip of my tongue, really...

Posted by: hayesap8 | January 26, 2011 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Matt, your comments are cynical. After hearing the speech, if you did not get what needs to be done in the areas President mentioned, then you got a problem.

Posted by: ak1967 | January 26, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Matt, your comments are cynical. After hearing the speech, if you did not get what needs to be done in the areas President mentioned, then you got a problem.

Posted by: ak1967 | January 26, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Matt, your comments are cynical. After hearing the speech, if you did not get what needs to be done in the areas President mentioned, then you got a problem.

Posted by: ak1967 | January 26, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

'Take education, the key to the future, where everyone knows teachers matter most.'

Wrong, a strong family unit trumps teachers every time. I had good teachers growing up, but I honestly can say none of them really stand out in my memory. Good parenting prepares the student for education.

Posted by: je121819 | January 26, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Wrong, a strong family unit trumps teachers every time. I had good teachers growing up, but I honestly can say none of them really stand out in my memory. Good parenting prepares the student for education.

Posted by: je121819 | January 26, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse
---------------------------

That's very true, but the simple fact is that a great many students do not have good parents, and it's affecting our country adversely. Since mandating parenting classes and parenting styles would be a gross governmental overstep, we need to do something about our schools.

I too was struck by the vagueness of Pres Obama's comments on teaching and by the idea that it was simply campaign platitudes. I think Mr. Miller hit the nail on the head here. I taught public high school in Virginia for one year, and it just wasn't worth the hassle for the money, for the discipline that modern schools completely lack, for being surrounded by daily incompetence, etc. We need fundamental reform. I mean, the teachers I know in Arlington and McLean are making good money, but it's hard to tell a smart young person with other options to go back home to, say, Front Royal or Culpeper and teach for half the money they could make on a consulting gig at some accounting firm in NoVa. So we just get a spiral of rot in those places.

Also, advising college students to become teachers is probably the worst bit of career advice imaginable these days. Localities are cutting teaching jobs at alarming rates all over the country. That's like telling kids to work hard to try to become newspaper writers or to open up plants manufacturing CDs. Delusional.

Posted by: justin_timberwolf | January 26, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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