Well, another evening when I didn't watch TV. We don't have one.
So I read a transcript of Pres. Obama's address to Congress, and listened on radio to Gov. Bobby Jindal's response.
The first impression is that they sure sounded alike. Both filled with platitudes; both lacking policy specifics.
Certainly the president's 53-minute oratory contained more verbiage than Gov. Jindal's 15 minute overly-animated reading. And there were some notable contrasts. But none different from what you'd expect.
Pres. Obama did an admirable job of anticipating his critics and ambushing their concerns. Like this at the top of his speech: "As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships." Pretty slick.
Obama didn't really have a mantra in his redundant, plodding speech (implied: "We'll fix it"), but Jindal was tiresome in his repeated spin-off of "yes we can," "Americans can do anything!"
Obama seemed to agree: ""The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth... What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."
Obama tried but couldn't hide his intention to spend America out of recession, justifying his $787 billion stimulus package by offering what his constituents expect--jobs, chastising but still assisting banks and auto-makers, and offering big programs for energy re-direction, education, and health care. Then he back-pedaled: "I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities." The stimulus looks like the Dem's spending dream, everything they'd normally have to take months or years to push through. If they're not exactly "earmarks," many provisions sure smell of pork.
I actually took the president up on his boast of transparency and visited the oversight website he mentioned, http://www.recovery.org/. I watched his intro video and--gasp--perused the 407 page stimulus package bill . What I noticed was lots of defining language, but also--bounteous grants offered for all sorts of unspecified programs. For example, communities may apply for "any project or program that is included in a strategic plan..." (p. 289). But in order to assess these applications, the stimulus package requires the Secretary to create "An Inter-Agency Community Assistance Working Group." The feds also have to provide back-up for these communities in implementing their programs--sounds pretty bureaucratic and complicated to me.
There's $15 million set aside to restore "historically black colleges" (p. 53), $450 million for repairs on Indian Reservations (p. 54), $1.2 billion for state youth activities (p. 58), $2.1 billion for Head Start programs (p. 64); these barely scratch the surface.
Truth is, reading the legalese riddling the bill is confusing. But I recognized clearly the billions of tax dollars now designated by law for expenditure. I'm amazed such a sweeping appropriations act could have been constructed in such a short time, and I'm incredulous that legislators could have read and understood it before they voted on it.
But back to Pres. Obama's address tonight. At the conclusion of his speech, the president reached into his satchel of stories to feature Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a student from a broken-down school in Dillon, South Carolina, who with others exemplified, among other virtues, "a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity." What had she done to earn this ambitious designation? Shed written for President Obama's help, with the plea that her classmates are "just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change...we are not quitters."
I do hope Ty'Sheoma succeeds, but I hope she has the gumption to do it on her own initiative, without relying on taxpayers for salvation.
I don't mean to give Gov. Jindal's response short shrift. Though I support his underlying message to empower individuals rather than government, I was distracted by his early personal stories that smothered his point and made his response start more like a campaign stump speech.
I was glad he addressed lack of faith in the Republican party, acknowledging, "In recent years, these distinctions in philosophy became less clear -- because our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust -- and rightly so."
Perhaps his best dig to the Obama stimulus was this: "Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs or build a prosperous future for our children."
Though I think most Americans understand Gov. Jindal's point, I fear they might be too busy scrambling to grab some of Pres. Obama's stimulus money to think about it.