Last night, Barack Obama delivered what could possibly be the final State of the Union address of his presidency. Given that we’re in an election year, he followed suit of his predecessors and used this televised platform as a campaign speech, containing a detailed laundry list of policy initiatives
for the remainder of his first term and -- if all goes well -- his second.
Packed with populist and patriotic messaging (the word “America” or “American” was dropped at least 80 times), Obama’s “Built to Last” speech framed the debate for a fairer country where all citizens are asked to play by the same rules. Perhaps most notable, and surprising, among his leveling-the-playing-field commitments to America was his announcement of launching a federal investigation into Wall Street impropriety that lead up to the financial crisis.
“I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”
This is a 180-degree shift in tone from a February 2010 Oval Office interview when the president not only claimed he didn’t “begrudge” JPMorgan Chase
(JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s $17 million bonus or the $9 million awarded to Goldman Sachs
(GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein but applauded their business “savvy.” Until now, neither Obama nor the Justice Department have taken any meaningful action against the big banks and were even expected to compromise with them on a sweetheart deal.
In bridging the gap between the rich and middle class in America, Obama took veiled aim at Mitt Romney’s tax rate
and proposed a minimum 30% “Buffet tax” rate for millionaires. He wants to stop rewarding companies that ship jobs overseas by eliminating tax deductions and made Fortune Brands Home & Security’s
(FBHS) Master Lock an example of a business that used tax breaks to relocate back to the US. Perhaps this was a bit of a wink to Apple’s
(AAPL) record of outsourcing to China
with Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Powell Jobs in attendance as the First Lady’s guest.
“If you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.”
Individuals and groups across the political and economic spectrum -- from Mitch Daniels’ official Republican response to the Occupy Wall Street movement -- have weighed in on the president’s State of the Union address. Minyanville has offered those varied reactions here.
The Tea Party via Herman Cain
As someone whose presidential campaign was aligned with the Tea Party’s positions of fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets, pizza magnate Herman Cain was asked to issue the group’s response
to the “scripted rhetoric” of the State of the Union. For the most part, Cain criticized the president’s address for what it didn’t contain, specifically solutions to fundamental change in Washington and increasing economic and job growth.
“Here’s some of the facts you did not hear,” said Cain. “He said the unemployment rate is at 8.5%, but if you add in the people who’ve been looking so long that they’ve given up, they’re so discouraged, and you add in the 18 million people that are underemployed, the real rate of unemployment is 18%.”
Two-term GOP Indiana governor and former budget director for George W. Bush, Mitch Daniels, was tasked with giving the rebuttal
from the other side of the aisle. Although he infused some histrionic rhetoric about the country “quarreling and paralyzed, over a Niagara of debt,” he offered measured, fiscally conservative solutions not always touted by his party leadership. Namely, Daniels spoke of means testing entitlements that would “stop sending the wealthy benefits they do not need, and stop providing them so many tax preferences that distort our economy.” While he didn’t appear to agree with the “Buffet tax,” Daniels does embrace the idea that loopholes for corporations and high-earners should be eliminated.
Occupy Wall Street
The Occupy DC arm spoke for the larger movement through the “people’s microphone” with prepared remarks
from their encampment in McPherson Square. In a sort of half-baked fashion, the part-statement part-poem didn’t respond specifically to anything in the president’s State of the Union address but used the opportunity to “report on the State of the 99 percent in America” and overall economic disparity.
While not the official message of the group, the video on the group’s website
did provide some insight into the attitudes of individual members about Obama’s speech. “Our reaction here is a bit mixed...[from] it wasn’t all that bad to it was the worst thing I've ever heard.” The gripes stem from what they believe is a dissonance between Obama’s lofty goals and his ability to actually deliver them.
During a campaign stop at a metal distributor in Orlando, Florida, former Massachusetts governor GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney railed against the “legislator’s lethargy”
of the president following his State of the Union address. He blamed Obama, not only for being out of touch with the reality of this country’s deficit, but for asking for legislation from Congress instead of drafting his own.
Likening the course of America to that of the Titanic, Romney said the president is driving the ship that is our economy “full speed ahead” into a figurative iceberg.
“What he didn't say last night is that we are spending too much and borrowing too much and that America is on a collision course with debt and that if we don't get off this course, we could sink the American economy and go into calamity,” Romney said.
The fundraising grassroots powerhouse was instrumental in getting Barack Obama elected in 2008 but MoveOn.org has certainly not been quiet over the last few years when it comes to criticisms over his more conservative policies. Of course, the liberal PAC will also give the president props when it feels he’s due. And this is one of those times.
At the heart of MoveOn’s cause célèbre is the federal investigation Obama promised in his address of Wall Street banks for their role in the mortgage crisis. Apparently unwilling (this time) to bite the hand that feeds him, the President heard the rallying cries from the group and its petition’s over 360,000 signatories
and asked the attorney general to create a special unit to investigate lending abuses. In an email to members, MoveOn stated, “This is truly a huge victory for the 99% movement.”
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