Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Speech & Budget Plans: Another Double

This photo on the White House website makes it look like the President is praying for something to turn up...

President Obama's Tuesday night address to the Joint Session of Congress, like his first press conference, was a solid double. He didn't strike out, he got on base, but he didn't hit the ball out of the park. He wasn't Reaganesque, or even Clintonesque...he was Obamaesque. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not quite a good thing, either.

Basically, Obama read a laundry list of government programs and promises. I liked that he said he would end no-bid contracts and stop torture, but didn't like that he didn't say he would get our money back from the no-bid contractors and demand punishment for the torturers. The problem is that while talked about holding people accountable in the future, he stayed away from holding anyone to account for creating the mess we are in now. IMHO, that's a significant problem.

Obama needs to say, not "Tell it to Joe!" but "Disgorge your ill-gotten gains!" and "Pay for your crimes!" Maybe if the perpetrators are truly contrite he could pardon them--but first, at least they need to show some remorse...for the sake of rebuilding confidence, they can't be allowed to keep laughing after they have gone to the bank with the loot--or gotten away with murder.

Why would anyone give a dime to people who haven't gone after the people who have stolen literally billions of dollars? What is needed is not bipartisanship, rather what is needed is a good house-cleaning. He might begin by ordering the SEC to re-open at once every single securities investigation closed or dropped without resolution during the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, the President talks about the need to restore confidence yet appointed a Treasury Secretary who does not, and IMHO cannot. No wonder the market continued to fall after Obama's speech. Last night's TV interview with Jim Lehrer made Geithner look like a complete dope...if it had been a job interview, Geither would have quickly heard, "Next!" The Treasury secretary couldn't give a straight answer to a single question, plus he had a supercilious smirk on his face, like he was pleased to be pulling one over on Jim Lehrer. If Obama is serious about restoring confidence, Geithner might want to decide the what he really wants to do is spend more time with his family, asap. The administration needs someone who personally inspires confidence, who has real achievements and a reputation for honesty--not a tax cheat who sounds like a C student squeaking by in an oral exam. Someone with gravitas like Paul Volcker.

Finally, Obama did not paint a "big picture" in his speech. He can't inspire without one. All the ditches and bridges and teachers and firemen and computerized medical records and tax credits in the world won't make up for it. At this point "Yes, we can" is not good enough. We already did...he's the President. Now, Obama needs some specific mission for the nation. JFK rallied America around a Mission to the Moon; Ronald Reagan, the High Frontier and Winning the Cold War; Bill Clinton, a Bridge to the 21st Century. Each stimulated the economy...the Space Race led to the communications satellites and fiber optics that made the computer age possible, as well as deterring the USSR; the defeat of the USSR led to a new birth of freedom and economic growth around the country and the world; and Clinton's high-tech revolution and commercialization of the internet (yes, spearheaded by Al Gore) created opportunities for technologies such as Google and Blogger and Twitter and iPhones and all the rest. Digging ditches and volunteering in soup kitchens and windmills isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid.

One acquaintance noted that Obama didn't even mention the space program in his talk. Yet at this moment, we are faced with challenges as great as Sputnik from China's moon shot, India's moon shot, and Iran's satellite launch. Even if these countries don't use the new technology to attack the US directly, they certainly are set up to challenge American satellite and IT dominance in war as well as peace. IMHO, Obama needs to look up into the heavens, inspiring us to reach for the stars--in addition to promoting "shovel ready" construction projects here on earth.

Unsuccessful Presidents, such as Bush 41 & 43, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, have asked us to lower our expectations preying on our fears. Successful Presidents such as JFK, Reagan, and Clinton, have led us into a brighter future, inspired by our hopes. If he wants a second term, Obama needs to give us some really big picture hopes, that create jobs and stimulate new dreams.

In the meantime, here's a link to, official website of the stimulus package. And here's a link to an ACLU petition demanding that President Obama open Guantanamo Bay prison to independent public inspection.