Obama's State of the Union Take on the Economy: This Time, It's Personal

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Obama State of the Union EconomyIn the 1960s, one of the rallying cries of the rising feminist movement was that "the personal is political." In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama turned that saying on its ear with a list of proposals that argued, again and again, that the personal is economic -- and the economic is political.

Obama's speech covered a lot of ground, addressing the need to restore the nation's infrastructure and the need for federally funded preschool, the value of education programs and the cost of marriage, the importance of gun control, and the need to do more to prevent violence against women. Yet, again and again, most of those disparate points came back to one central factor: money.

As he did the recent election campaign, Obama couched the economic in the language of the personal -- especially as it applied to the middle class. This theme emerged early in his speech. "We should ask ourselves three questions as a nation," he said. "How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills to get those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"

From this angle, Obama argued, even the question of establishing free, public preschools can be viewed as through the lens of economics and return on investment: "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on." He went on to argue that infrastructure spending translates into employment, stating the CEO of Siemens told him that "if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs." In Obama's speech, even the Violence Against Women Act had a financial aspect: "We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence," he said.

It's easy to see why the economy is a fruitful topic for Obama. The economic hopes of the middle class were a large part of what got him elected in 2008 and last year, and he has racked up a series of victories in the post-election economic battles with Congress. Now, he and the nation are once again facing the automatic cuts of the sequester -- a legislative booby trap that he referred to on Tuesday as "a really bad idea." Arrayed against him in his fight to defuse the bomb is a Republican party firmly defending its own platform of upper class tax loopholes, cuts to social programs, and -- in the case of Rand Paul -- an increase to the sequester.

The Plan: End Runs Around the Party of No

Politically and economically, the No. 1 question for the next two years is: Can Obama enact the reforms that he endorsed in his speech?

To a great extent, the answer will be no. Most of the proposals that Obama set forth, including gun reform, tax reform, an increase in the minimum wage, and federally-funded preschool programs would require some support from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. And, while the GOP seems to be tacking gently toward the center on immigration, the chances that they will loosen the purse strings to pay for expensive new initiatives are slim.

That theme should feel familiar from some of the president's previous State of the Union addresses. His proposed 2011 infrastructure spending bill died in committee, and his 2010 climate change proposal never went anywhere. The same goes for his 2011 and 2012 proposals for immigration and tax reform.

On the other hand, some of the president's proposals -- like an anti-hacking initiative, broad trade talks with Europe, increased accountability for colleges, and an anti-poverty push -- could be partially enacted via executive orders and other tools at his disposal. And, as long as Obama can keep the focus on middle class incomes, middle class jobs, and middle class opportunity, he should be able to keep pressure on Congress. While a $9 minimum wage and federally-funded preschool are probably not on the way, Obama might be able to close the carried interest loophole, and defuse the sequester. And, in this game, even those small power plays could bring a huge economic -- and political -- payoff.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.


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krzyston

A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues … Theodore Roosevelt
Alex Krzyston https://sites.google.com/site/alexkrzyston20/

February 16 2013 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

Only a welfare recipent would have voted atx888's comment up 7 times. You know who you are.

February 15 2013 at 3:01 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to obamaisafiasco's comment
obamaisafiasco

*recipient

February 15 2013 at 3:01 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

teapartyisstupid
All I know is that republicans would rather keep people on welfare and food stamps than give them a fair living wage.

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Uh it's Obama who has more people on foodstamps and the numbers increasing. As far as a living wage goes, maybe you should go out and look for a job before your start commenting about wages. It would be a good first step in getting yourself off of welfare. Maybe it would make you feel good to contribute instead of taking all the time.

February 15 2013 at 2:59 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

teapartyisstupid
You mean Mitt Romney?

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Mitt Romney pays more in taxes in one hour then you'll ever do in your entire life time.

February 15 2013 at 2:52 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

atx888
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
If the government don't take from someone, there would be no roads, bridges, police officers, fire fighters, etc. The people they took from do benefit one way or another.

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People don't mind supporting those things and paying taxes to do so. But there are so many other things that the government steals money from the taxpayers for, and p!ss it away that people should not have to pay for.

February 14 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

atx888
2. What one person receives without working for...another person must work for without receiving.
Helping out those that can't help themselves like the the aged and those with disabilities is the right thing to do.

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Most people will gladly help those who can not help themselves. But are not willing to help those who always have their hands out and expect someone else to pay their way. Like the generations of career welfare recipients.

February 14 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

atx888
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!
Taking care of each other is the core of humanity and nation building. Shared sacrifices is what brings people together and make our nation great.

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Feel free to take care of anyone you choose to. I don't have to unless I choose to. Shared sacrifice for people who always have their hands out does not bring a nation together, but divides it as you can see what is going in the country today. You need a bandaid to cover the wound in your bleeding heart.

February 14 2013 at 3:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
Anyone who goes to school knows that. No one is dividing or multiplying anything.

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Sure they are. Namely Obama and crew and if they get their way will steal more money from the taxpayers for their own agenda.

February 14 2013 at 3:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
obamaisafiasco

atx888
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealth out of prosperity.
Asking the ultra rich to pay their fair share of taxes (not 14%) is not going to deprive them of prosperity.

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Why do liberals think that they can decide what someone's fair share is.

February 14 2013 at 3:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
plumerias maxd

OUR SO-CALLED PRESIDENT, IS, WELL, " GOOFY !!!!!!!!!!!! " IAM SO EMBARRASSED FOUR OUR COUNTRY. I MEAN, WE ARE AMERICA, THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD AND WE ARE LETTING HIM TURN US UPSIDE DOWN!!!!!!! HE IS A JOKE, HE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT IN THE HELL HE IS DOING !!!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US. WHY IN GODS NAME ARE WE ACTUALLY LETTING HIM GET AWAY WITH WHAT HES DOING!!!! WELL, WAKE UP PEOPLE OF THE U.S OF A. STOP, STOP, STOP, AND STAND UP !!! WE ARE THE PEOPLE AND HE IS JUST A FREAK!!! TIME TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT HIM AND HIS ANTICS!!! IF WE JUST DO NOTHING, THEN WE MUST DESERVE HIM, RIGHT ? BECAUSE THAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE HERE FOLKS !!!!

February 14 2013 at 2:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply