Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Speech: "Yes We Will"

In Barack Obama style, optimism is not cheerleading but understanding the situation, finding the best answers and getting to work on them without delay. Tonight, we saw that approach, expressed with more assertion than we have seen before from the President in charge of saving the American economy.

“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this,” he said in his address to Congress. “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

If there is a word that means the opposite of "demagogue," Obama defined it tonight by devoting his speech to detailing the difficulties without minimizing them while stressing the steps needed to save jobs, save homes and get the banking system working again.

He told us "we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day."

In his even-handed way, the President emphasized his desire "not to lay blame or look backwards," but added that "it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament."

He acknowledged widespread resentment over the bank bailouts but made it clear that "we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job--our job--is to solve the problem" and promised "I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage."

Beyond the immediate crisis, the President laid out long-range answers to energy independence, health care reform and improved education, insisting that they can't be delayed, because "to fully restore America's economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world."

It was not called a State of the Union address, but the Congress and the country got a good look at what political leadership should be that was underscored, for comic relief, by a lame Republican rebuttal from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, full of stale platitudes about what government shouldn't do at a moment in American history when only government can stop the bleeding that free enterprise has inflicted on the country.

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