Obama Is Back In Campaign Mode

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 21 2015 @ 10:15am

For those who missed it, the full SOTU speech:

Cassidy gives Obama high marks:

The President wasn’t merely upbeat. He was self-assured, glib, and, at times, bordering on bumptious. “Well, we’ve been warned,” Karl Rove complained on Twitter. “POTUS will spend rest of year campaigning.” … As the President is well aware, his ambition of transcending partisanship has been frustrated. In fact, he now seems quite comfortable with embracing partisanship and economic populism. Until the end of the speech, when Obama circa 2004 put in a cameo appearance, he had provided a welcome glance of the Obama whom many Democrats believed they had elected in 2008: progressive, impassioned, and persuasive. “Where was this economic Obama in 2009?” the documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney asked on Twitter. That’s a question that historians will certainly ponder. Last night, though, the President showed up and staged a successful occupation of Capitol Hill.

McArdle felt that “the specifics were rather light, particularly on his extensive array of tax proposals”

There’s a reason for that. Americans like to hear that rich people are going to be forced to pay their “fair share.” They would probably be considerably less excited to hear that Obama wants to tax the earnings on educational savings accounts, or that any assets they inherit from their parents would be subject to a capital gains tax.

To be fair, there are generous exemptions. But there are a lot of affluent-but-hardly-wealthy folks in blue states who would be very unhappy to hear that that nice Westchester home Mom and Dad bought for $15,000 in 1952 is going to be subject to a capital gains tax — at the same time as they’re suddenly paying income taxes on the capital gains and dividends in little Sally’s college account.

Yuval Levin understood the speech as “not an agenda he can work on with this Congress but an agenda that a future Democrat could plausibly attempt to offer the public”:

That the president could offer so little policy substance to back up this superficial change of emphasis is a sign of just how bare the Democrats’ cupboard is now. But that he has recognized that the change is needed is a sign that at least some in the party may be aware of the problem they have.

In this sense, the speech offers a model that Republicans can learn from. They, too, need to recognize that there will not be very much they can achieve in the next two years, since the president isn’t particularly interested in proving that Republicans “can govern.” They should certainly look for opportunities to make meaningful rightward progress where they can, but there won’t be many of those, and for the most part they too should use what power they now have to put forward an agenda that will speak to the public’s concerns and priorities.

Tomasky doubts that the GOP will be able to come up with such an agenda:

[Y]ou can’t get people to think about longer-term economic goals when they’re out of a job, or underemployed. But once that’s turned, you can. That is what’s turning now—not turned, but turning. And that is what is about to make our political conversation be about this new one thing: sharing the prosperity. The speech was not a great speech, a speech for the ages; but it did understand that, and it did tap into that. People are now willing to start thinking about longer-term economic goals. A quickie CNN poll found that the speech was extremely well-received: 51 percent very positive, 30 percent somewhat positive, only 18 percent negative.

That really should worry Republicans, no matter how many seats they have in Congress. Our politics is becoming about one big thing on which the Republicans have nothing to say. Actually, they do have something to say, and it’s “No!”

Byron York, on the other hand, thought Obama sounded “disconnected from reality”:

After a “vicious recession … tonight, we turn the page,” Obama said. “With a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production, we have risen from recession.” For some Americans, that is the case, although even for them, “bustling” might be a bit much. For other Americans, the news is still pretty bad. When a recent Fox News poll asked, “For you and your family, does it feel like the recession is over, or does it feel like the country is still in a recession?” 64 percent of respondents said it feels like there is still a recession. Indeed, it’s widely conceded that part of the reason the unemployment rate has fallen is because a core of discouraged workers dropped out of the job search altogether. So for many listeners, Obama’s “turn the page” declaration will seem as out of touch as his claim that Islamic State’s advance has been stopped.

Finally, Bouie points out that, even “if Congress adopted all of Obama’s economic proposals, it would put just a small dent in the towering inequality that defines modern American life.” He wonders whether future Democrats will go further:

Policies that would unambiguously boost incomes—broader and higher subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, direct wage assistance, an expanded Social Security program for retirees—haven’t reached the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

But it’s now clear, from this State of the Union to statements from key party elites, that inequality will stand as the main agenda item of the post-Obama Democratic Party. The questions now, and the ones Democrats will fight over in the coming presidential primaries, are of ambition. Are the modest policies of the late Obama administration enough? Or do we need something more drastic to bring our economy back into balance?