The President's Speech - A Big Step In the Right Direction

President Obama's State of the Union address last night was a very good one.  It did what speeches like this one should do - layed out a vision, a strategy, for where America needs to go over the next 10-15 years.  He correctly identified the greatest challenge facing America today, which is to craft a new and comprehensive American response to a world that is undergoing dramatic and profound change (for more on this see this essay).  

Last summer, after many talks with folks in the Administration, Congress and in our own network, Rob Shapiro, Jake Berliner and I wrote the following in a much broader memo about the US economy: 

Making the Political Case – America Needs an Economic Plan

In the coming months, our economic dialogue should emphasize two major points. First, the
economic challenges that Americans face began even before the financial crisis and Great
Recession hit, and it will take time to address and resolve our new challenges. The goal of
economic policy is not simply to produce a “recovery” that returns Americans to the economy of
2001-2008; rather, America needs to invest in accelerating our transition to a stronger, 21st
century economy. This economy is fundamentally different from the old one – it faces more
global competition; it is much more technologically intense, and much more universally-wired
and connected; and it will have to be rebuilt on a foundation of lower-carbon energy.

So, our political rhetoric has to definitively shift away from simple “recovery” to a new
commitment by the entire nation – not just the federal government – to invest our resources and ourselves in navigating the transition we face to a new prosperity. By articulating clearly the structural challenges and transitions that lay ahead – rather than invoking some magical thinking that all we need is a so-called “recovery” – we can help create a public logic for sustained new public and private investment in the years ahead. It’s time to describe and explain to Americans what precisely is happening with their economy.

In this context, talk of short-term austerity is an obstacle to progress and prosperity. Moreover, the attitude it represents, if embodied in policy, raises the very real possibility of long-term economic stagnation and even national decline. Explaining this threat to the American people can initiate a public conversation that can promote a new period of national investments in prosperity. Because the vast majority of Americans already have endured a “lost decade” economically, they may well respond more to these arguments than many highly-skilled elites, whose prosperity is insulated from many of these dynamics. Most Americans know how tough the economy has been, and they don’t expect an easy way out. What they have been waiting and looking for is a plan with a reasonable chance of improving their lives in the years ahead.

Right now, today, the country needs a plan that embodies a serious economic strategy to deal
with for the difficult and complicated challenges our economy now faces. In many ways, the
Obama Administration already is operating off such an approach, comprised of stimulus, health care reform, energy development, immigration reform, financial reform, the new emphasis on exports, and the modernization of schools. These disparate parts, along with some additions, now need to be harmonized into a national economic strategy, which the President has begun to articulate in as part of the “New Foundation.”

Last night the President did what the country needs now - he layed out a strategy to transition America into the new and unfamiliar economic terrain of the 21st century - "to win the future."  We at NDN are excited by his vision, and stand ready to make it a reality in the years to come. 

For more on our thinking about these matters, see this State of the Union Backgrounder, and these recent quotes in the national media from the NDN team.