The State of the Confusion

 On the surface it’s not hard to agree with a wide variety of what President Obama said in the state of the union address.  It is particularly easy to agree if you happened not to be paying close attention over the past year. 

“They’re (us) tired of partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness”.  Agree but the management of issues in the House and Senate this year seemed to guarantee an escalating degree of partisanship.  Not a single Republican amendment on major pieces of legislation was accepted.  While shouting and pettiness may be abhorrent so is the concept that the other side is incapable of offering even a single good idea.  Yes it was a game, a game played by both sides.

To eschew partisanship and also publically denigrate the opposition with a well worn talking point is a confusing approach to mending the partisan divide.  To castigate the opposition for, well, opposing and at the same time warn your own supporters not to run for the hill in the context of public rejection seems a bit confused as well.

To seemingly commit to American business as the solution to the employment crisis and then start picking them off one by one as “bad guys” also seems a bit conflicted.  The President’s supporters must also be confused by statements such as “Government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers”.  That is a decidedly and long standing conservative idea in its actual application.  It is also an idea that has been absent from the policy universe over this past year overwhelmed by the idea that government can directly manage those conditions.

To denigrate the opposition and then highlight a number of their ideas as part of the solution is perplexing.

To engage domestic energy production which has not enjoyed a scintilla of attention and yet place it in the context of the need for an energy bill that will essentially guarantee the failure of that production appears befuddled and disingenuous.  

It’s true that 95% of working families got a tax cut, about $12 a week, good politics but not a cut that has had any macro economic impact that we can actually see. 

It may be true that no taxes have been raised, but it was not for lack of trying.  The health care bill, had it passed would have raised taxes, so would Cap & Trade.  Taxes by another name are represented by the fees to be paid by banks that will be passed along and the promised removal of tax benefits from major industries which will result in higher prices.  There is, as well, the refusal to renew the Bush tax cuts which will result in higher taxes for 50% of the population.

Despite widespread criticism and the inability to actually spend the money the President still holds up the stimulus plan as a great victory and a critical component of a recovery that has not happened: very confusing.  

Helping Community Banks is a good idea but there are thousands of them and $30 billion is only 17% of what we gave to a single company, AIG.  Sounds good but the lack of a real commitment to the major point of capital access for small business is confusing in light of the new found importance of small business.

A pause here to agree fully with the President on reducing capital gains taxes on small business investment and creating incentives to invest in plants and equipment.  The confusing part is that those recommendations have been on the table for a year.  It has been ignored till now with questionable prospects in the House under any circumstances other than the ongoing political pressure of public opinion.

The export goal is bewildering as it’s hard to determine exactly what we’re going to export given the erosion of our manufacturing base over the past 50 years.  It sound good, we’re all for it, but how will we motivate new industry without the protectionism that most agree is counterproductive or the investment that most agree is necessary.  If the President is focused on better jobs and pay for the middle class and on greening the economy we widen the cost gap between us and countries like India and China to say nothing of emerging economies in South East Asia.

I agree with the President that not rewarding companies who ship jobs oversees is good policy.  Confusion reigns however, when GM fresh from its bailout did exactly that under government scrutiny and approval. 

It’s easy to agree that pending trade agreements with countries like Columbia create favorable trade conditions.  The Senate, however, has refused to pass that treaty, puzzling!

It also easy to agree on the value of great education, it is the ultimate silver bullet.  But finding a way to bridge the philosophical gap and engage the teachers outside of their own self interest could be another story.  To expect the same people, organizations, policies and structures that are directly accountable for the sad state of some educational systems today to create the conditions for dramatic improvement in the future is bewildering, absent proof to the contrary. 

There were many points of confusion.  The most confusing premise of all was the President asking for better ideas.  The President has asked for those ideas before and committed to entertain them.  He did not!  The people took to the streets with their ideas this Spring and Summer and were insulted by the leaders of the President’s party.  The partisanship he decries, he engaged in.  The patina of arrogance he ascribes to others, he clearly suffered himself.

Very confusing indeed.