The Galesburg Speech: Obama Bangs His Head Against a Wall

It's hard to build up hype over a Presidential address, but the White House gave it their best shot, spending three days prepping the press corps for a major speech on the economy. But if watchers were expecting a revolutionary change of policy from President Obama on Wednesday, they were probably disappointed. The speech he delivered at Knox University in Galesburg, Ill., was classic Obama boilerplate. In fact, as some reporters noted, it was almost identical to a speech that he gave at Galesburg in 2005 and another one that he made in 2011. That isn't to say, however, that the most recent Galesburg address didn't have surprises: For people listening carefully, it suggested a change of tactics, if not a change of policy.

The five initiatives that Obama outlined are not especially ambitious: He wants to encourage manufacturers to create jobs, help states to develop high-quality preschools, pass laws to make it easier to renegotiate mortgages, shore up Social Security, and continue to work on affordable health care. Health care aside, most of these goals enjoy broad (if vague) support from voters in both parties, and even health care reform is the law of the land, and has growing support.

But just because Obama's goals are somewhat uncontroversial doesn't mean that they are achievable. As he has lamented for the past few years, it is all but impossible for him to get anything through Congress. Whether the issue at hand is the Senate's refusal to approve his political appointees or the House's refusal to pass vital agricultural and student loan legislation, Obama's opponents have charted a clear course of postponement and obstruction -- as House Majority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have explicitly admitted.

Under the circumstances, there is little Obama can do: As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum recently pointed out, all of the goals outlined in his Galesburg speech would require Congressional support to achieve. Given that Obama's hands are tied, it is worth asking why he would want to draw attention to his legislative impotence. Put another way, why would a president deliberately set himself up to fail?

One answer could be that Obama is drawing attention to congressional Republicans' refusal to compromise -- and the impact that legislative obstruction is having on the lives of average voters.
The five goals that he outlined all touch on aspects of middle class life: work, education, home ownership, retirement, and health care. All five are things that millions of American families are struggling with, and all five are things that he has attempted to address, only to have his initiatives stymied by his political opponents.

This is another place where the normality of Obama's goals may work in his favor. Since these initiatives are so well-worn, so oft-repeated, it's not hard to imagine a voter watching the speech and wondering why the economy is plagued by the exact same problems that Obama was talking about in 2011 -- not to mention 2005.

Ultimately, the president's powers are deeply constrained by Congress and the Supreme Court; his greatest independent power, in fact, is probably his command of the bully pulpit. As Obama demonstrated on Wednesday, the president can propose legislation, and has the stature needed to draw national attention to pressing problems. While he can't force Congress to allocate money to create preschools or streamline mortgage refinancing, he can clarify these issues for voters -- and ask congressional Republicans why they are refusing to act to reduce middle class suffering.

Will Obama's strategy work? Given that Congress is facing its highest disapproval rating in history, the president's attempt to draw attention to its ineffectiveness and gridlock seems logical. What remains to be seen, however, is if Congress will respond with compromise -- or if it's willing to continue cutting off its nose to spite Obama's face.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Building Credit from Scratch

Start building

View Course »

What is Inflation?

Why do prices go up?

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Homeowners can benefit when they refinance a variable-rate mortgage and exchange it for a fixed-rate loan.

December 04 2013 at 1:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


July 26 2013 at 7:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to h.hughjardon's comment


July 26 2013 at 8:23 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

LMAO...a live interview with tony weiner on TV.

He's getting testy...or is it teste

July 26 2013 at 3:33 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply

"...classic Obama boilerplate. In fact, as some reporters noted, it was almost identical to a speech that he gave at Galesburg in 2005 and another one that he made in 2011"

It looks like Obama and his speech writers are stuck in a rut! Remember Obama's first two years as president? You know when the democrats had control of both the house and senate. Was there gridlock then? After all, Obama did succveed in getting that horror known as Obamacare midnight behind locked doors.

Then there's HARRY REID, the biggest obstructionist in congress. Good ol' Harry has refused to bring proposals from BOTH democrats and republicans to the senate floor for debate and voting. Now that's REAL "gridlock"!

Hey, Obama, how about telling HARRY REID to stop putting proposals in his trash can?

July 26 2013 at 10:21 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply

Forrest Gump strikes again???

July 26 2013 at 9:11 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

My question is for Obama and his administration,how much did they have to pay all those white people that was behind him while he gave speech.And how many of them really believe anything that comes out of his mouth.For one instance he kepts saying his economy is getting better and those idiots that believe that mess.When he has run the deficit up 7 more trillion dollars while he,s been in office.But his first four years he blame GW Bush, now its any Republican holding office,but he,s the one that run the deficit up 7 trillion more dollars.Now Detroit is file the largest bankruptsee in America history and Chicago not far behind ,but those people in Illinios think the economy is getting better,thats the most idiotic thing I,ve ever heard in my life.

July 25 2013 at 11:30 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rickgardn's comment

The NEA has done its job. Union dues for the Libs, Dumbed down electorate for generations to come! Socialism is alive in this head-cases mind. Its good to be the king!

Another way to look at this is: Democrat / Progressive- uneducated led by the uninformed.

July 26 2013 at 9:14 AM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

what a pitiful biased column from this writer -- are you kidding? Why is it the congress has to compromise -- not one word of Obama having responsibility to modify his leftist positions of bigger activist goverment of tax and spend. this is why the media is viewed as poorly as congress in polls. And p.s. to the author, Congress is NOT elected by a homogeneous vote across america. they are elected individually. Your poll about congress is meaningless. the rating of "congress" never matches individual members of congress -- maybe the writer should note over 90 percent of incumbent members of congress get relected. this is more huffington bias.

July 25 2013 at 8:50 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply


July 25 2013 at 7:45 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

He just doesn't understand how the private sector economy works. There is no such thing as growing it from the middle out. It doesn't even make sense. Get government out of the way of running a business with them coming out with new regulations every 5 minutes, simplify the tax code and cancel Obamacare and you will see this economy take off like a rocket.

July 25 2013 at 7:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
The Macway


July 25 2013 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply