Barack Obama’s speech before Congress and the American public on Tuesday night served as the introduction to his 2012 reelection campaign. While the Republicans continued to feint and parry with one another through a highly entertaining Florida debate, searching still for the correct message and messenger, the man to beat already boarded the plane and started delivering his message around the country. President Obama visited five states in three days, beginning Wednesday in Iowa and ending in Michigan on Friday, talking about the economic plans he laid out in the State of the Union address.
President Obama several times during the SOTU made a point of speaking directly to Congress, imploring them to pass legislation that would move his plans forward. It was a tactical move, putting the legislators on the spot to either act on his wishes or continue their failure in the realm of public perception. The promising statements in the SOTU speech, repeated in his appearances throughout the week, established the second step of that maneuver. While it is easy for the president’s critics to take the cynical view that he’s just parroting his campaign script, the visits delivered key segments of his message to carefully targeted subsets of the public most likely to benefit from his proposals – a much different audience than the assembled members of Congress.
At his first stop in Iowa, Obama focused heavily on income inequality, referencing his proposed “Buffet rule” of 30% minimum tax for those making $1,000,000 a year or more. He discussed the importance of correcting the tax code to stop jobs from migrating overseas and to encourage businesses to hire U.S. workers. He also took figures directly from the SOTU to show the growth of jobs during his administration:
Our businesses have created more than 3 million jobs over the last 22 months. If you look at a job chart, if you look at a chart of what’s happened in terms of jobs in America, we lost 4 million jobs before I took office, another 4 million in the few months right after I took office, before our economic policies had a chance to take effect, and we’ve been growing and increasing jobs ever since — 3 million over the last 22 months. Last year, we created the most jobs since 2005. And today, American manufacturers like this one are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s.
His next stop was an Intel campus in Chandler, Arizona. Here, the president emphasized the importance of developing manufacturing jobs in the U.S., encouraging companies to keep those jobs within our country through revisions to the tax code, and making education a budgetary priority to help American students prepare for engineering and other scientific careers. His argument to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans received support earlier that day from THE wealthiest American, Bill Gates. Obama made mention of this fact in Chandler:
We don’t begrudge success in America. We encourage it. We aspire to it. When we talk about everybody paying their fair share, it’s not because anybody envies the rich. Earlier today, Bill Gates said that he agrees that Americans who can afford it should pay their fair share. I promise you, Bill Gates doesn’t envy rich people. He feels pretty comfortable that he’s doing okay. It just has to do with basic math. We’re going to have to reduce our deficit, and if I get tax breaks that I don’t need and the country can’t afford, if a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett get tax breaks that they don’t need and can’t afford, then one of two things is going to happen. Either it adds to our deficit, or it’s going to take away from somebody else – whether it’s a senior or a student or a family who’s trying to get by. And that’s not right. That’s not who we are.
The president’s next visit occurred Thursday morning at a Las Vegas UPS facility. Obama stressed at this appearance the administration’s energy policies, the reduction of dependence on foreign oil, and bolstering domestic production of fuels.
Now, a great place to start is with natural gas. Some of you may not have been following this, but because of new technologies, because we can now access natural gas that we couldn’t access before in an economic way, we’ve got a supply of natural gas under our feet that can last America nearly a hundred years. Nearly a hundred years. Now, when I say under our feet, I don’t know that there’s actually gas right here. I mean in all the United States. And developing it could power our cars and our homes and our factories in a cleaner and cheaper way. The experts believe it could support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. We, it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. We’ve got a lot of it. We’ve got a lot of it.
That signaled good news to UPS, energy companies, and the transportation industry, but also illustrated Obama’s business-friendly centrist tendencies. Coming out in favor of “fracking” for natural gas couldn’t have sounded sweet to environmentally conscious liberals or the American families able to set fire to the water coming out of their faucets (thanks to the chemicals involved in the fracturing process). The president continued highlighting the energy agenda when he visited Buckley Air Force Base later the same day, mentioning specifically the military’s role in clean energy.
That’s why in December, the Navy made the single largest purchase of biofuel in government history. This summer, that fuel will power ships and subs during the world’s largest naval exercise. By the way, two years ago, I got a chance to see a Navy F-18 Green Hornet that can fly on biofuel. That was an impressive sight. The rest of the military – including here at Buckley – is doing its part as well. In 2010, you started installing thousands of solar panels here on the base. That same year the Air Force flew an A-10 Thunderbolt entirely on alternative fuels, a first for the military. And, overall, the Air Force is on track to save $500 million dollars in fuel costs over the next five years because you’re changing the way you run their operations.
Speaking at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, President Obama brought up the growing economic divide, the necessity of a quality education, and his plan to keep the skyrocketing costs of college tuition down.
If tuition is going up faster than inflation, faster than even health care is going up, no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later, we’re going to run out of money. And that means that others have to do their part. Colleges and universities need to do their part to keep costs down as well. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Here at Michigan, you’ve done a lot to find savings in your budget. We know this is possible. So from now on, I’m telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well. (Applause.) We are putting colleges on notice – you can’t keep – you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.
Obama drew two types of lines during the State of the Union; one group pointing to the accomplishments of his first term and the other outlining his side of the coming year’s argument with the GOP. He took that information immediately to groups of constituents ready for his message, beginning the mobilization of voters toward his reelection. The inability thus far for the Republican opposition to develop a clear competitor for the Oval Office allows the president an important advantage: He gets to define the parameters of the conversation before the other side is ready to talk. It’s a plan with merit.
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Jake Negovan drives Red Brown and Blue to be an outlet for progressive political opinion that leads to the betterment of life for the real, multicultural population of the U.S. and the rest of the world. His columns address the issues faced by our country as we continue growing toward a society of equality. More about Jake can be found on the web at jakejots.com or on Twitter@jakenegovan.