This is obviously a late entry into the New Year's observations and speculations genre. There have been some writer's block issues (what to address) and some illness, so maybe we can consider this appropriate for the start of Chinese New Years?
President Obama will have given his state of the union speech by the time you read this. I was going to wait to see what he says, but decided instead to open the New Year with what he ought to say. He should open his address with a proclamation the state of the union is improving. It shouldn't be a Bush-like "mission accomplished" moment, but rather a sober, honest summary of where we are. Every major metric, from new claims for unemployment to increasing requests for new home permits, are on the rise. Jobs are being created. It isn't enough, and it hasn't reached the most hard-hit populations, especially African Americans and Hispanics, but compared to where we were when he took office, the nation is in better shape. He should say this in front of the regressives who will sit on their hands and remain stone-faced to avoid showing any joy America may be starting to recover. It is the worst news they could face. If Americans believe things are finally starting to trend in the right direction, Obama will be re-elected in November. They know this, and it's why they are hoping the economy tanks, unemployment rises and the misery index climbs. By starting with this, Obama contrasts his policies with their obstructionism and myopic desire to put victory above the needs of average Americans who just want a job and a growing economy.
If I were advising Obama, I would beg him for a dramatic game-changing policy announcement at this point in his remarks. The number one drag on the nation's economic health is the housing industry. Millions of foreclosed or underwater homes sit in limbo waiting to be dumped on the market. The housing market can't recover until this sword of Damocles is removed. Obama should announce a three-part plan. First, announce all loans through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will be modified. Mortgage principle will be lowered so that the monthly payment is not more than 25% of the owner's monthly gross income. Immediately, hundreds of thousands of middle class Americans will know they wont lose their homes and can afford the monthly payment. Second, Obama should also proclaim a deal with all state attorneys general in which private mortgage lenders, from Bank of America to Citi Bank to Goldman Sachs etc, agree to reduce mortgage principle and modify any mortgage not in the final stages of foreclosure. In return, the banks will receive immunity from future litigation. Again, this would save American families from losing their homes and stabilize prices in places like Phoenix, Las Vegas and all of California. (Since the banks are facing multi-billion dollar settlements anyway, they should love this deal) Finally, Obama would tell Congress he will send them legislation which will fund these initiatives aimed at bailing out Main Street now that Wall Street has been saved by taxpayer money.
Can you imagine what an impact this idea would have on the nation's psyche? Home prices would bottom out. Families would be secure in their homes improving conditions in neighborhoods all over the nation. Property tax revenue would improve increasing revenue for local government. Of course regressives would freak. They would shriek with outrage about deficits and debt. They would claim this is immoral to reward people who got in over their heads. (Of course they have no problem with corporations getting in over their heads, declaring bankruptcy and dumping all pension and medical obligations they have to their former employees...nothing immoral here) They would accuse Obama of more economic profligacy. They would weep and gnash their teeth knowing this would kill any chance they have of defeating Obama in November.
The rest of his address should be a frank admission America is deeply divided between the 1% and the 99%. The Occupy movement has done him a huge favor. They have framed the issue and all he needs to do is flesh it out. He needs to tell Americans this is no longer the land of Horatio Alger. Study after study documents the fact you have a better chance of improving yourself economically, rising from the lowest class to the upper class, in Europe and Scandinavia than you do in the United States. He has to pledge to reverse this trend. He has to point out how the moneyed 1% dominate the nation's conversation about everything from taxes to education to foreign policy. He has to call out a Supreme Court whose regressive members believe a corporation is a person and who opened the floodgates for Super Pacs to distort a political system that tilts towards the needs of the uber-class already.
As part of his prepared comments, Obama should tout his own accomplishments. His passage of healthcare reform has already expanded health care to millions of Americans who would have been kicked off their parent's insurance and is reforming how medical care is delivered in this country. His new consumer protection agency will be a force to protect Americans from predatory lending and the common practice of hidden and unnecessary fees from banks. (He defied the regressives and appointed the new head of the agency in a recess appointment, which finally allowed the agency to start work) He refused to be stampeded into approving the Keystone pipeline and the EPA has issued new air pollution regulations for the first time in years. Cars have to have higher mileage standards. His national labor relations board is making it easier for workers to organize much to the chagrin of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the most evil organization in America) Don’t ask, don't tell is gone. We are out of Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan. He is proposing a huge restructuring of the military saving hundreds of billions of dollars. (and ending the insane idea we have to be able to fight two wars at the same time) Dodd/Frank is not perfect, but it is the first time in more than two administrations where the financial industry is being re-regulated rather than de-regulated. There is much more he can and should tout including the amazing stories of General Motors and Chrysler and the rising alternative energy industry.
In this New Year, those of us who had such high hopes for Obama have to forgive all the ways he has disappointed us. When you listen to Romney, Gingrich or Santorum, you hear them championing increased military spending, cutting taxes for the 1%, eliminating regulations and freeing up corporations to continue to export jobs and pay no taxes. Everyone running for the Republican nomination proclaims they will implement the policies started under George Bush if they are elected. These are the same policies that enriched the 1%, devastated the economy and weakened the middle class. (and started two immoral wars...and now a third if these chicken-hawks get their way on Iran)
I apologize for my lapse in writing. This will be a very political year. We face a simple choice. We can progress or regress. This isn't about liberals vs. conservatives. This is about those who want all Americans to move forward and those who want to return us to the Gilded Age where the rich ruled and the middle class was non-existent. November will tell us a great deal about who will win this struggle.