After Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellows Jeff Madrick and Tom Ferguson took to the airwaves to dissect it. Was there substance behind the soaring rhetoric? Can the proposed policies really solve our economic ills?
Jeff Madrick joined Eliot Spitzer on Keith Olbermann's Countdown, and his analysis could be summed up as: "It was a tougher speech than I expected."
Despite what some naysaying economic advisers may be telling President Obama, "he said forget about all those constraints," Jeff pointed out. "Let me go after the Chinese, let me develop some tax breaks, let me develop some tax penalties." Those FDR fans among us may remember his famous welcoming of Wall Street's hatred, a stance Obama has mostly shied away from. Yet, as Jeff notes, not only did he go after Republicans in Congress and big oil, "he said some pretty nasty things about Wall Street."
His policy proposals were important too, Jeff said. "Few things are as unambiguous as a need as updating the American infrastructure," and that was a big part of his "constant mention of jobs." Plus there was a heavy emphasis on bringing back manufacturing, although the question remains as to whether that's really possible.
Meanwhile, Tom Ferguson, while "intrigued" by some of the policies, was "underwhelmed" overall. He told Paul Jay of the Real News Network that "when you start to look at the details" of Obama's proposals, they're "almost meaningless."
Take the plan to have a massive mortgage refinancing program. That could be "a really striking thing and it would likely have a huge effect on the economy," Tom said. But "their record in the last three years is they keep announcing programs and they all fail." Plus the taskforce on mortgage abuses "looks to me like an effort to to rein in the attorneys general" at the state level, he said.
Things were worse when it came to the "utter tameness" of the ideas around money in politics, Tom said. While banning Congress from insider trading is a good idea, "he's not really touching the essence of the money in politics problem," he points out. "He's basically punted on that one." What could he have proposed that would work? "You could do a lot by simply making the federal election commission a serious part of the civil service to get it out from under its ridiculous domination by Congress," Tom suggests. It's not just Citizens United that should be on reformers' radars.
And overall, while some of the economic policies may sound good, the underlying push from the administration for austerity and a focus on the deficit went unaddressed. "My guess is that these folks are not planning to change course on the economy," he concludes.