The ship of state will sail past next year.
I like Ezra Klein a lot. He is smarter than the average policy wonk, and he has a way with words that highlights the absurd of politics while getting at the heart of policy. Today, though, I read Klein’s article about President Obama’s upcoming jobs speech and it left me a little torn. I agree with much of Klein’s predictions about the President’s job proposal, but the impact of what Klein writes represents something much worse than the outcome of a speech that, really, few people will see.
Unfortunately for Obama he will be competing for air-time against the opening night of the NFL, so I imagine he’ll get about 162 viewers, mostly bloggers. But it won’t matter if you miss it, the script is already written. Here is Klein:
Here is what will actually happen: President Barack Obama will give a speech. It will include a mixture of ideas the administration has pushed for some time (extending the payroll tax cut, investing in infrastructure, passing trade agreements) and some modest new additions (a tax cut for companies that hire new workers, for example). Relatively few people will tune in to the speech; of those who do, most will be either committed Obama supporters or equally committed detractors.
A realistic script…takes the form of a news release issued by House Speaker John Boehner’s office on Aug. 17. All you really need to know is the title: “Statement on Announcement of President Obama’s Upcoming Speech on Jobs.”
Consider that for a moment: Where else but Washington would you see a news release responding to an event that hasn’t occurred and statements that haven’t been uttered?
It’s not difficult to see the cause for despair. But despite the overwhelming evidence for rage, I am generally optimistic about the US Government, because I believe in what we have established as the Federal Government. It’s the work of many years, shifting glacially and at great cost. But slowly the ship of state sails on, and improves. One of the best traits of the federal government, however, is that it allows for everything to utterly breakdown and achieve nothing. So instead of having a 2 (or more) party system where leaders work together to forge compromise that propels the nation forward (to anywhere), we have 2 parties that absolutely cannot STAND each other. Animosity at the highest levels makes even the simplest task hard. Rather than pick up the phone and discuss when to give a speech, for example, party leaders engage in a public spat that makes our entire country look petulant and irresponsible.
For these reasons, I am not optimistic about President Obama’s speech. The speech won’t create jobs. The best outcome will be a political success, and the odds of even that must be rated pretty low.
Obama’s speech will achieve nothing. It will go nowhere because it has nowhere to go. A speech can rally the base, and maybe even temporarily change the topic in the news. But it can’t change the fundamental fact of politics right now, which is that the two parties disagree on the most profound question in Washington. It’s not: How do we fix the economy? It is: Who should win the next election?
This is the part of the column where, as a pundit, I lay out my three-point, politically implausible plan to turn the situation around. This is where I tell the president to fight harder, or take his message directly to the people, or fire up the lethargic Obama for America organization. This is where I remind the Republicans that they supported tax cuts as stimulus all through the last decade and even into 2009; where I beg them to put country before party; where I warn them that everything they are doing unto the Democrats today will be done unto them tomorrow. This is where I summon history to show how FDR or Reagan or Truman broke a similar logjam.
But such exhortations — and I am guilty of writing variations on these many times over — are pointless today. The facts are what they are. And what they are is depressing and unlikely to change.
This speech may achieve nothing, Ezra Klein, but the facts are not only likely but guaranteed to change, because we have a strong system built on change. It may seem impossibly far away, but an election will come, and it will have consequences, and things will get better, and the economy will improve, and one way or another our Federal Government will get back to the good old days of fighting about social issues in the Chambers, maybe having a beer after the session, and actually creating policy. This is what TRC remembers when the politics gets so out of control that nothing ever seems like it will be accomplished in D.C. ever again. It might be naive, but I’ll take it.
So while President Obama speaks to an audience of a few politicos about how to create jobs (a task no president can actually achieve, in my opinion), and the Republicans continue to throw science under the bus and blame the EPA for everything from high-priced gasoline to a jobless recovery (Klein:”we have 9 percent unemployment because the global financial system collapsed, not because federal inspectors are overly concerned about coal particulates in the air”), remember that this, like everything else, is only temporary.
Update: A conversation resulted from this post that leads me to a clarifying point. TRC does not think that everything will be fine simply by waiting for things to turn around, we are not accomodationists to the picture of government being painted by certain minorities within the parties. The state of the Republican Party is terrifying to behold, in our opinion, and things could get much worse, and be bad for a long time. For that not to happen, the better half must galvanize and show the dangers that the current Right pose to the constitution.
But the ship of the US Federal Government, we are saying, can contain this Tea Party, like it managed the last one, and will the next one.