Monday, February 1, 2010

Yes we can -- well, maybe

"Let's end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas." Pres. Obama said this numerous times during the '08 campaign. The line reappeared in his State of the Union speech, which shows how politically difficult it is to change this part of the tax code. Actually, right now it's politically difficult to do much of anything, at least in terms of legislation. The Founders, we are continually told, wanted a constrained, self-checking government, but this is ridiculous.

On foreign policy and trade policy, the State of the Union speech broke little new ground: the U.S. needs to export more - no surprise; trade should be on a level field - no surprise; we are in danger of being overtaken in technological innovation by other countries - no surprise. It was nice, however, to hear Obama reaffirm his commitment to a nuclear-free world. He also mentioned repealing the don't-ask-don't-tell policy (a line noticeably not applauded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

As for the rest of the speech, I thought Obama struck a number of reasonably good notes. The focus on unemployment was both substantively and politically necessary, as was the emphasis on measures to help small businesses borrow and to encourage them to hire. The spending freeze (not to take effect until 2011, since "that's the way budgeting works") was also something he probably did not have much choice, at least politically speaking, but to propose.

Moreover, it was entirely appropriate, despite what some have said, for Obama to criticize the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the campaign finance case that came down last month. I've read parts of the opinions, which taken together total more than 180 pages, and I had thought about putting up a separate post about the case, but I probably won't. I'm guessing readers of this blog are not that interested in the fine points of First Amendment law. Suffice it to say that the decision is pretty awful. Justice Alito's reaction to Obama's remarks during the speech, and the comment the reaction has occasioned, is a tempest in a teapot.

Obama's appeal to rise above partisanship and divisiveness was both eloquent and expected, though whether it will fall on receptive ears remains doubtful. "The politician looks to the next election, the statesman to the next generation": I seem to recall this line from an essay -- I don't remember which one -- by John Rawls, who was presumably repeating a distinction that had been drawn before. How many of the politicians in Congress are statesmen or stateswomen in this sense? Hmm...


Sverre said...

At least one of your regular readers is interested in the finer points of First Amendment law and would love to see a separate post on the issue.

LFC said...

Ok, I'll see what I can do. :)

hank_F_M said...


I second Sverre's suggestion.

hank_F_M said...

Aside from questions of law.

Back before McCain Feingold I heard an interview with two Congressman, one from each party, who actually expressed the same opnion - the first party to get working majority in both houses and the Presidency would pass a campaign funding reform that would encourage and reward donations to themselves and discourage and even punish those who donated to the other party. So we have president who received more (or close to it) large (i.e. special interest) donations than his opponent received donations and matching money. No matter how altruistic his comments he dislikes a decision that would makes it easier for people who disagree with him to donate to his opponents. That sounds more like the South Side machine hack than a principled statement. Of course a lot of Republicans would be just as bad. As a matter of good policy I think that is why much of McCain Feingold is mistaken, no matter how good the original intent is, if the government says who can and can not support candidates sooner or later it will be saying only it’s supporters can donate.

LFC said...

I guess one could make an argument along the lines: (1)large corporations tend to support Republicans more than Democrats; (2)the decision makes it easier for large corporations to spend money on advertising (i.e., allows them to use general treasury funds to do so); and (3)because the decision on balance therefore will benefit Republican candidates, Obama doesn't like it. (Note, by the way, that the decision has nothing to do with donations or contributions; it has to do with independent campaign expenditures by corporations (and unions, presumably) out of their general treasury funds.)

Of course, I prefer to think that Obama's stand is mostly a principled not a purely self-interestedly political one, but there is admittedly no way that I can prove that I am right and you are wrong on this.

hank_F_M said...

Of course he is was speaking from principle as well as expediency. But the irony factor is rather large in any case.