Jeremy Cutcher is a political science senior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
Last week, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address, outlining the path his administration would take over the next two years. As many pundits and journalists predicted, the policy proposals he outlined are more centrist. Yet, many Conservatives still disparage his ideas as the usual liberal business of taxing and spending.
Obama began his speech picking up on the same line he left off of in his last speech in Tucson, calling on Americans to make this country the democracy we believed it could be in our idyllic innocence of childhood. He then went on to outline the vision he has for America in his next two years as president.
President Obama discussed a number of issues that should garner bipartisan support, so long as political maneuvering does not become involved. First, he talked about closing tax loopholes and using the increased revenue to lower corporate tax rates to remain competitive in the global economy. Second, Obama said the U.S. needs to invest in infrastructure to catch up to Europe and Asia, which makes sense seeing as how much of our infrastructure is well over half a century old. He also talked about ending oil subsidies and using this revenue to invest in clean energy so that, in his words, “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”
Following the theme of investing in tomorrow, Obama said he wanted to end the pitiful, underfunded program Bush called No Child Left Behind and replace it with “a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.” He highlighted his administration’s Race to the Top program, which put more of the power of educational matters at the state level, giving governor’s the responsibility of designing their own programs for their respective states.
Education is one of the best investments the federal government can make. All we need to do is look at our own tuition fees and see that education is becoming so expensive it is out of reach for students. Devoting more money to education can help keep costs down. Furthermore, if we use wages as a proxy for value to society, teachers do not rank very high given their measly salaries. Yet, teaching is by far one of the most important professions in the country, educating the future leaders of tomorrow. It is telling about our education system when Obama is criticized for being an “intellectual.” I think we need to devote more resources to education so that this culture of hating the intellectual may pass.
Still, Conservatives will not accept these “spending increases.” In fact, the day after the speech, many conservative columnists decried Obama’s call for increasing investments as a cover for increased spending. But this adds nothing to the discussion. Of course investing is spending because investing means spending now to gain some type of benefits in the future. And that is precisely what spending on infrastructure and education will do — we will be “investing in tomorrow.”
Already you can see the parties positioning themselves for the 2012 election. But before Republicans take credit for making Obama move more towards the center, they must not forget that Obama came into office with a huge democratic majority in both houses of Congress. The politically expedient plan for Obama and the Democrats was to pass legislation that would not pass under other circumstances such as financial regulation and, most notably, health care reform, which administrations had been attempting to pass since the Great Depression.
And before Republicans take credit for Obama being more fiscally responsible, they must not forget that Obama came into office in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Conservatives love to mention the increase in federal spending under Obama, but constantly fail to mention the context. Macroeconomic theory states that in recessions, aggregate consumer demand falls, which triggers businesses to cut back production (including layoffs) as their revenue falls.
Thus, according to Keynesian theory, the government, which is the only institution that has the mass resources, must spend to compensate for the lost consumer demand and help ameliorate the depths and effects of the recession. This is precisely what the Obama administration did, not to mention that the Stimulus Bill, in terms of the number of Americans affected, was the largest tax cut in history, with $282 billion of the $787 billion going to tax cuts, though Conservatives always discuss it solely as a huge spending bill.
It will be interesting to chart the course of Obama’s presidency over the next two years. Surely, it will focus more on fiscal issues than social issues. No doubt there is a lot of spending outlined in his State of the Union address. It will be interesting to see if the country accepts his plan of investing in a new America. It will also be interesting to see how they agree to pay for it (it seems like some sort of tax increases will be necessary). The public no longer allows that benefits are received now but bills are paid later.
Obama called this our “Sputnik moment” — this is the moment where we decide whether we are to be the country we are or the country we want to be.