Shaping the future with today’s choices.
This was exactly the speech the President had to give.
As art and theatre, it was at pitch perfect. The speech was simple, well constructed. The sentences had a nice rhythm. It took off with a well done reference to the Tucson tragedy and his brilliant speech there. It had a gracious, inclusive, pragmatic, almost collegial tone. It soared to a great lifting conclusion. And it had a wonderful mantra: "We do big things." And the President, of course, gave it about as well as is possible.
As policy and substance, this was a major economic strategy speech. I'll go further. This is the first coherent economic strategy a president has put forward in a long time. It was exactly right for our society, and it provides the compass and context for the entire rest of his presidency -- both terms. This is the narrative I have argued for two years the President needed to provide. It is a strategy progressives should want to back.
He made the two crucial points he had to make: that we must deal with our deficit and we must invest much more in our society. Simultaneously. He then threw in a third point I did not expect: a major reorganization of government. More on that later. The details he emphasized were meaningful. The new investment will involve a new kind of discipline and include private money -- we are going to see some form of an infrastructure bank. Social Security will be protected and strengthened -- he is open to increasing the retirement age. He wants major tax reform and rate reductions, but will push again for higher tax rates at the highest income levels. The numbers say he has to have a new revenue source. He is open to changes in his health care reform bill, suggesting two outcomes: legal reform and a termination of a major reporting burden imposed on small business. There will be more.
As politics, the speech exhibited master craftsmanship. The president took over the entire center. He appropriated the future -- but then the Republicans had already rejected any future. He welcomed business into his fold. His reorganization proposal/hint is a master stroke. And his deft use of humor -- absolutely deliberate -- minimized in advance the entire Republican thrust. His tone conveyed the thoughts, "Yes, we (you) will disagree on everything, it will be sort of cute to watch, but in the end we (you) will return to what the teacher wanted in the first place."
As presidential strategy, this speech showed President Obama thinking in the way I had hoped he would from the start. I know he doesn't play point guard, but this showed a president with great court vision. He had to take back the agenda, reclaim the center, create a center of balance and focus for his administration, and most important of all provide a real narrative for the country. "We do big things." He did it all.
Yeah, I sort of liked the speech.
Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.