Shortly after surviving the Republican drubbing in 1994, former President Bill Clinton began a pragmatic shift to the center, eventually working with Republicans on such centrist–and even borderline conservative–ideas as welfare reform and promising that “the era of big government is over.” Fast forward to late January 2011 and we have a new Democrat in the White House, who himself survived what he called a “shellacking” in the previous midterm election, who himself is preparing for a pragmatic shift to the center surely as uncomfortable to him as it seems as unlikely to us.
Expect this State of the Union address to begin a new era of faux cooperation and false bi-partisanship and as much pragmatism as empty words will allow. Expect the president to talk about how the country is suddenly aware that we need fiscally responsible policies. Expect the president to talk about how he wants his Democrats to work together with Republicans — the same Democrats who used mechanisms like reconciliation and “deem-and-pass” to force through legislation without Republican input. And expect the president to talk about the importance of civil discourse in American politics, remarks that media outlets the world over will interpret as directed toward the American right, even though it is the left who has proven itself anything but civil.
At a little after 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, the folks at National Journal released a smattering of prepared remarks from tonight’s State of the Union Address:
With their votes, the American people determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
Wrong. With their votes, the American people determined that they want to put the “representation” back into our representative republic. With their votes, the American people put forth a referendum on the expansion of government and relentless onslaught of contra-constitutional policies coming from inside the Beltway. With their votes, the American people repudiated ObamaCare, and said a resounding “no” to increased government involvement in their daily lives, all in the nebulous name of “reform.”
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world. We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
Long on words, short on substance. It’s easy for the president to talk about fostering growth, but it’s hard for the president to reconcile his agenda and explain how.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children. That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
“By the jobs they can find?” So far, the only growth industry in terms of employment has been in government.
“By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise?” This, from the president who fought against a tax policy that would have provided those small business owners with the breathing room necessary to innovate and grow and employ others?
“By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children?” Has anybody seen the debt clock lately?
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.
But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.
This, from the guy who is putting the Space Shuttle program on blocks and leaving NASA and our astronauts at the mercy of the former Soviet Union to blast off into space. How are we going to unleash a wave of innovation without jobs? How are we going to create jobs without creating a nation where business and industry are welcome?
This IS our generation’s Sputnik moment, in that the signal from Sputnik has long since faded and the empty shell of that satellite broke apart on re-entry.
Earlier today, Mike Pence took to the House floor and issued an open message to the president about tonight’s speech.
Mr. President, we will not win the future with the failed economic policies of the past. As you come into this hallowed chamber tonight, we urge you, Mr. President, to give not just a new speech. Give the American people a new direction.
Click HERE for the video.
As it turns out, the folks at National Journal have a full draft of the president’s speech tonight. In violation of a White House embargo and all. Hold on for a moment, and I’ll go looking for some highlights.
Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. And as we mark this occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and pray for the health of our colleague – and our friend – Gabby Giffords.
It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.
But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.
I expected the president to begin with something about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I’m glad that he did not artificially inflate long-term hopes of her recovery — perhaps he saw the same thoughtful and thought-provoking article in New York Magazine that so many others did this past week.
Nevertheless, cooperation comes from trust, and trust cannot simply be manufactured because of a single speech, no matter where people are seated. The Democrats no longer in power did everything possible to shut Republicans out of the debate over the past two years — reconciliation, deem-and-pass, Christmas Eve votes … you name it, they tried it. Are we supposed to forget?
The Republicans over the past two years practiced the Doctrine of Constructive Constructionism, proposing ideas while explaining why the alternatives were not feasible. Are we supposed to embrace this new call for civility and, in doing so, play the part of the battered wife who swears that, this time, her husband will change? I don’t buy it.
I believe we can. I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.
Work toward a better life for our children?
Perhaps we should start by addressing this nation’s mounting debt.
I heard Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee speak for a few minutes today in opposition to a Republican proposal to draw spending back to 2008 levels. She spoke about how we must ensure that America “keeps moving forward,” as if government spending is the only fuel for American innovation and greatness. It’s the same attitude that people have with regard to schools (and, often, the two issues run hand-in-hand) — somehow, if we throw money at our children, the money alone will translate to better grades and better futures.
It takes more than money to guarantee results in the classroom, just like it takes more than government spending to keep America “moving forward.” We need to dial back spending, whether it be through a spending limit amendment like that proposed by Reps. Mike Pence and Jeb Hensarling (the former and current House Republican Conference chairmen) or whether it be through a more policy-targeted approach like the “roadmap” proffered by Rep. Paul Ryan.
That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.
Never mind that the Democrats were absolutely a-okay with allowing the Bush tax cuts to sunset if the Republicans did not acquiesce on extending unemployment benefits. Those steps were taken by Democrats only because they knew that, if the tax cuts were not passed, it would be political suicide for the Democratic Party. Those steps were taken by Democrats only because they knew that the Republicans would put forth legislation to retroactively extend the Bush tax cuts only weeks later after the 112th Congress took office. (Frankly, I wish they would have avoided the compromise.)
But we have more work to do. The steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession – but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear – proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.
They’re right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an internet connection.
Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.
China and India will only catch and surpass the American economy if we allow those nations to do so. We need to make America attractive for business and industry again — that means lower corporate taxes, that means the end of irresponsible environmental legislation only put into effect by the EPA as a extra-legislative back door to cap-and-trade legislation. We are actively killing the coal industry. We are actively preventing innovation. Meanwhile, China and India are glad to be on the receiving end of a global market in which the United States is no longer the most attractive place to do business.
So yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember – for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.
What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
The very concept of “shaping our own destiny” is an inherently conservative ideal. Risk and reward. Bootstraps. Everything this president and his party have advanced goes in the complete opposite direction — coddling, regulating, stifling. If Barack Obama and the new left had their way, we would leave the destiny-shaping up to the government. Ninety-nine weeks of unemployment, for example, has a destiny-shaping effect on those who rely upon it.
Achievement, too, is an inherently conservative ideal. Everything this president and his party have advanced goes in the complete opposite direction — affirmative action, collective bargaining agreements, opposition to merit-based pay, opposition to school choice. The pooling of server tips recently made news in Oregon — how does that foster achievement? What incentive does your waiter have to be quicker, nicer, or more attentive than his counterpart in the section next to yours?
All right — I got as far as I could before the speech, and I intend to resume Bar Exam study afterward.
For the full advance text of the president’s speech, click HERE.
For the full advance text of the Republican response, click HERE.
From this point on, take a look at the America’s Right Twitter feed: