Analyzing Obama's job speech

Sep 08, 2011

Note to readers: The start time of this chat will depend on when President Obama's speech ends. As soon as the president finishes speaking, Robert will start answering questions.

President Barack Obama is set to speak to Congress Thursday at 7 p.m. EST about job creation. Join the Post's Robert Kaiser Thursday as soon as the president's speech endsand get your questions about the speech answered.

Tell Robert what you thought about the speech and bring up any points that you found interesting.

Mr. Kaiser, Greetings from Santa Barbara, CA--so glad you're hosting this chat. I wish WaPo would bring you out more often! Regardless of the merits of the American Jobs Act, what incentives will the Republicans have to support it? Given that the presidential election is just over a year away, they have every reason to dismantle policies and politics of the current administration. I'm sure the GOP presidential candidates are lining up even now to denounce this as more of the "failed economic policies" that have dragged us down to where we are. In this atmosphere, really, what can be done to address the economic woes?

First let me say good evening to all. This was an interesting moment in Washington for sure, and I hope we can have a lively discussion. I'm here not just to pontificate myself, or merely to answer questions; I'm also in the business of posting your commentary if you have any. So please feel free to send it in.


Santa Barbara is asking a key question. I thought Obama was quite effective the way he said, repeatedly, we have responsibilities and the country expects us to fulfill them.  I suspect a lot of voters, and particularly the less political, more independent-minded ones, fully agree with that. We've all seen the poll ratings of Congressional Republicans tumble in recent months.  Obama's have fallen too, but he was way ahead of them in approval ratings (over 40 vs under 20 in the major polls, I think) before this speech tonight .  In that fact lies the answer to your question--Republicans will act only, I think, if they feel their political fate demands it. And of course they may not feel that it does.

That sounded like the first great stump speech of the 2012 campaign. I would say the man has not lost his touch.

Of course you are right, Obama was framing his reelection campaign tonight. And he made that clear with his promise/threat to "take this message to every corner of this country."

I was also struck by the way he amped up his own energy level tonight. Did others notice this? I felt as though he'd had a couple of shots of one of those energy drinks in the limo up the hill from the White House.  I'd guess that this was very deliberate, and was a response to what may be the most damaging poll numbers Obama now has: The ones that show a declining, and now less than 50%, percentage of Americans who consider him a "strong leader."  Wasn't he making a big effort to look "strong" tonight?


I think you meant "how." He actually said a little bit more about "who"--rich people and big corporations. The White House seems to have decided to go light on details in this speech, which I'd say was a good call given the imminence of the first game of the NFL season that a lot of people are eagerly awaiting. As I understand it, there will be more details available tomorrow, and in the days ahead.


But he did explain his tactic: Make the supercommittee do more than the recent budget agreement called for by coming up with more cuts, and also by recognizing the need for more revenues. He promised to release "a more ambitious deficit reduction plan" a week from Monday.

What was the take away from tonight?

Isn't the answer to that inevitably a subjective one? My take away is that Obama has found turf on which he will be comfortable fighting for re-election, and he's ready to go to the country with it. And although Republicans out there may not want to hear it, polling suggests that a majority of Americans is a lot closer on these issues to Obama than they are to Gov. Perry or the tea party. That of course does not guarantee Obama's reelection; in our modern history, presidents presiding over terrible economies generally don't get reelected.  But it gives him something to work with for sure.

Is this the proper protocol for the Speaker of the House when from opposition party?

"Proper protocol?"  When have you seen that exercised in Washington in modern times?

when will we start getting OUR cola again, if ever?

I will resist the temptation to characterize this question, but will point out that the law that provides a COLA is  very much in force. There's been no COLA for two years because the Consumer Price Index hasn't risen in two years or more.

Given Obama is a lame duck , has he told the USA people the Plain truth about the Economy and the Banks? Has he put in the measures to create employment until the worst of the bad debts of the banks are paid off ? I think it will take ten years, atleast until the housing overhang is cleared , and house values can recover . thus recovering the USA consumer confidence . He Obamas put in place the job measures needed , or just talked about them again?!

Here's a dismaying question for somebody (me) who worries about the fact that so many Americans don't understand their own system of government.

Obama is NOT a lame duck; he can run for re-election, and has made clear his intention to do so.


Obama cannot "put in place" any new programs. Only Congress can do that. We don't have a king, we have a republic. Article I of our constitution (you might like to read it) makes very clear that Congress has the power to make laws of all kinds.

So did the President give us marching orders, a rallying cry, or lines for more fundraising?

Again, the answers here are subjective. What did you get from it? I'm sure there are viewers who got all three of these, and a lot of others too.

From what I have been reading, it seems like Republicans are already rejecting Obama's plan. What happens then?

See above. Obama takes his message around the country and hopes that it pleases enough people that he gets re-elected at least, and maybe that Republicans get nervous and decide they have to do something. But I am not going to bet any money on the latter.

Have you heard any more details about enabling more homeowners to refinance? This chatter have been around for some time now but nothing concrete has emerged. Ezra Klein even wrote that he found it unlikely for it to be anything substantial given the stance taken by FHFA (Fannie/Freddie regulator). You have anything new?

I do not. Keep reading Ezra, he's the man. I'm sorry.

Telling a congressional committee to "cut more" is not a legitimate way of making this plan cost neutral. It's like me buying a Corvette and then telling my wife to spend less on clothes and food in order to balance the budget.

Well, if you had to wait for an appropriation from Congress to buy the 'Vette, when would you get it? But I take your general point, and agree with it. The detailed deficit plan he promises for a week from Monday will be signficant, obviously.

As an Obama supporter and raging center-left liberal I'm happy with the speech and the program ('tho he should have delivered it a year ago) but I'm withholding judgement for 48 hours to be sure he doesn't go back on his principles as often seems to be Obama's MO when the response gets too hot. If he stands by the speech I may even send him money...

Thanks for posting. Members of Congress who share your outlook had relieved looks on their faces tonight, didn't they? I think there must be a lot of relieved Dems tonight who, like you, were very worried about what might happen with this speech.

Just a simple question: If Obama is so intent to by American, then why did his adminastration buy a bus MADE IN CANADA? Do as I say not as I do.

Not sure what bus you are talking about, but I don't think Obama came out against trade tonight, did he? In fact, I heard him say he wanted Congree to approve new trade agreements with several countries. What if he wanted to buy an American-made smart phone? What would he buy?

I've been fed up with Obama lately for what I see as concession after concession to a Republican party that has no interest in compromise. I've read plenty of articles here (e.g. Richard Cohen's "Obama Lost The Hamptons") and in the NYT suggesting that I'm not alone in my disenchantment. But I loved what I heard tonight. If they're not going to compromise, Obama should take a confrontational approach. He's got the upper hand when it comes to policy. He needs to articulate that. And I think he did an exceptionally good job tonight. I wasn't expecting much, but he delivered.

thanks for posting. I've had several like this from Dems. I'd love some comments from the GOP as well.

I think I've heard the President say that the Congress needs to pass his jobs bill, right now, at least about five times. A genuine urgency for America or a typical ramming-down-the-throat approach?

I'd say a genuinely deliberate urgency. Obama couldn't cram it down the throats of Congress even if tempted; they have to vote for it in the usual way for it to become law. I think you miscounted by at least five, but I didn't count either.

One of the biggest criticisms of President Obama from the left has been his surprising inability to communicate very well since taking office. I hear and read this over and over--he's just not clearly and succinctly laying out for the American people what the problem is, how it got to be a problem, and why his solution will the solve the problem. I'm curious how you think he did tonight in terms of framing the situation for the American people, and taking control of the narrative. It seemed to me that he did some of that in the latter half of his speech by daring us to imagine what our country would be like today if government hadn't passed the GI Bill and other measures. But I don't know that he really told the story of how we got into our current mess, which I think would help people to better understand why the way out he's proposing makes sense. Unless I'm forgetting something he said?

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I don't feel competent to answer your important question, because I learned long, long ago that my reactions are not typical of any category of American voter. I see Obama, again tonight, avoiding blaming the Bush administration for many of the problems he has confronted, but I don't think historians will have any problem doing that. He seems to have concluded that the blame game wouldn't play well in the country, and he may be right about that.


I agree with you that he found an interesting new voice (not entirely new, to be sure) as defender of the role of government.  He really tried to paint the tea party into a corner, didn't he? But he obviously didn't intimidate them, as the long cheer they gave when he described their view of the world (cut the programs, remove the regulations) made clear.

How much of the president's proposal is in the form of tax cuts?

We don't yet have enought of the details to know. But he did present quite a long list of cuts.

What, if anything, was new about Obama's propsals in the jobs speech tonight?

A number of the specific ideas were new for him, but I'd say the most significant new thing may have been the New Obama that we saw, that high-energy, forceful guy. Is that for real? Will it last?

Hi Robert -- Thanks for taking questions tonight. Another great speech, and as an Obama supporter, it's nice to seem him energized. The problem is, I feel like I'm worried that we've seen this movie before: he gives a great speech, there's some buzz, and then we're back to the usual pointless overtures to the other side, more caving, more kvetching about how weak he is, etc. etc. Is there any hope that this time he'll keep on this (and on the Republicans) to really accomplish something?

Thanks for posting. I do think there's a chance "he'll keep on this," but I wouldn't, as I said earlier, bet lunch money on the prediction that he will "really accomplish something," because he can't do that by himself.

He quoted JFK, when is he going to come up with his own ringing phrases to go with those from the past- ask not, etc. I kind of wish he would recycle the "it's morning in America" phrase throw the Republicans for a loop.

If this is "morning," what would a grim midnight look like? I think your idea needs work.

Since you asked for our comments, I wish the President would stop running for re-election and start doing what is right for the country.

thanks for the post. You know, I think it's possible for a president, not just this one, to be political AND do what he thinks is right for the country. I think Ronald Reagan did that in 1984 in spades.

In an answer to another question, you mentioned that you thought Pres. Obama hinted at who would pay for the $447 billion: the rich (marrieds making over $250k, individuals over $200, per Obama) and corporations. Given that the rich already pay approx 43.5% of all personal income taxes (per, and the corporations are the entities Pres. Obama hopes will hire the unemployed (the goal of the proposal), how do you think that will work? Will sole proprietor business owners (many of the rich, who pay personal rather than corporate income tax) and corporations will respond to increases in their tax burden by taking risks and hiring more people, starting new projects, etc? Or does this plan sound like a good way to make businesses cling even tighter to their cash and not do anything until they have some certainty about their future (and know how much more they'll be paying to gov't for these programs)?

Thanks for posting. I am not one of the Washington talking heads, journalist or politician, who will tell you what it will take to get businesses to hire, I'm sorry. I keep reading stories that suggest one overriding problem for business caution: a lack of demand. Until consumers are buying more, why should businesses invest in making more? This is the dilemma in a period of de-levereging such as we are in.  I have also read numerous studies and analyses that conclude that anxiety about future tax rates rarely plays a significant role in businesses decisions about investments.

And I want to correct one point about small businessmen.  The proportion of American small businessmen with incomes over $200 or $250 (joint) thousand is very small.

I'm old enough to remember the 1950s, when the top income tax rate (Eisenhower was president, a Republican of course) was 90 percent. American companies and indviduals were investing then, creating the longest sustained boom in American history.

From the producer: Check out this PDF of Obama's prepared remarks.

Thanks for the chat - for me, the best part of the speech, as always. As a pretty staunch independent observer, I again applaud Obama's ability to give a speech. I would love to see a confrontational Obama and imagine that he will have to be if the GOP keeps acting like petulent teenagers. Go Pack!

You are too kind. Much too kind.

Obama gives good speech; that we know. He also sometimes finds ways to get what he wants--health care reform, Wall Street reform, the scalp of Osama, etc.  But he has also been ineffectual on important matters, particularly since the Republicans captured the House. I don't think we'll see a confrontational Obama, because he hates it, and also seems  convinced that it would turn off the independents he knows he needs to get reelected. But that's not the only option: we could see a more effective version of the real Obama than he's shown so far.  Maybe.

I'm not betting lunch money on that, either.

Obama went so far to say the Warren Buffett's secty pays more taxes than he does.....uh, maybe so but what Obama neglected to say was how much Buffett pays in CAPITAL GAINS. C'mon! This is another political stump speech by Obama. Isn't this his attempt to corner the Repubs?

Sure it's his attempt to corner the Repubs.  But you're wrong about Buffett. Look up the op-ed he wrote for the NY Times--if you go to the Times websire (my Post colleagues may kill me for this) and search for his name, I'm sure it will come up. In it he says he wants to be taxed more, and explains how much he is taxed. Very interesting.

I liked the comment about buying a Corvette and expecting your wife to make the payments up out of the grocery money (I paraphrase). This speech was pitched to the level of a fifth-grader! Some nice-sounding buzzwords, but until we see the details, well, this is what Dad referred to as "a pig in a poke." Exhorting Congress to "pass this bill" before anyone has seen it seemed really glib and heavy-handed. Maybe it's just me...

I wish I didn't think that you are wildly over-estimating the level of today's fifth-graders, but I do.


But thanks for posting.

I love him, and loved his speech. But I was a little annoyed when he was talking about the importance of many regulations, and specifically mentioning those related to protecting the environment, considering he just rolled back the EPA greenhouse gas regulations. Do you think the EPA rollback was an olive branch strategy for this jobs bill? Will it do any good?

I thought of that too. I would like to know more about the EPA decision. My wonderful colleague Juliet Eilprin, the Post's environmental reporter, indicated in her story that there are real economic arguments about how some companies could meet the costs of a tougher air quality standards in this lousy economy, but I'd like to know more.

He made the point that government can be a force for good-would have liked to see him reference china-the number one creator of new jobs in the world never shying away from government intervention in- a way that made clear that the republicans idea of the laissez faire society is as dead as the dodo or the centrally planned economy

thanks for this.

I agree it's entirely possible for the President to do what he thinks is politically advantageous and the right thing (just as Reagan did). Earlier in the chat, you seemed to foreclose that the idea that Republicans could oppose Obama's plan and still be doing what they think is right for the country. Would you like to take a moment to revise and extend those remarks?

Thanks for the opportunity! I didn't mean to foreclose on that idea. Obviously many Republicans, especially among the House freshmen, really don't believe in government as a solver of societal problems. They certainly do think they're trying to do what's right for the country.  But, to repeat, I also see numerous polls that show majorities of the country disagree with their prescriptions, which is what makes this such an interesting situation.

Mr. Kaiser, Good evening from Kingsland, GA . I would like to ask you about couple of things.  First, we are already under the water from treasury.  How would Mr. President create this fund from treasury ? Second, why doesn't his administration find those companies who purchased or manufatured their goods in CHINA OR INDIA and take away all tax breaks from these anti-american companies?

Geez, you've lost me here. "This fund from Treasury?" Not sure what you're talking about.

And I just disagree that a company that purchases something overseas is "anti-American." Without global trade, we'd be a lot poorer than we are. Our trade policy has been inconsistent and not always intelligent, but I think you're taking it too far.

You wrote "If this is 'morning,' what would a grim midnight look like?" The fellow that spoke this, Reagan, came into office with high inflation, high unemployment. Fixed mortgage interest rates went to 21%. His administration manipulated the way we count the employed to include the military. It made comparison with previous rates impossible.

When Reagan ran for reelection, interest rates were falling (thanks mostly to Paul Volcker I think, then chairman of the Federal Reserve) and the economy was growing briskly. That is what made "Morning in America" a plausible slogan. If it hadn't been plausible, it would have backfired, as it would backfire now if Obama were to claim a second dawn had broken.

What are the payroll taxes to be cut and how are they to be cut?

The Social Security tax that was cut last year, or was it the year before, is what he has in mind.

As a disillusioned Obama supporter, I would have liked for him to have given this speech much earlier in his administration. Instead he has focused on the wrong things IMO, e.g. deficit, instead of jobs and getting the economy going. He has also seemed to cave in to the GOP even when he is right and polls support him, and let them box him in (spending cuts and layoffs help the economy?). I hope this is not too little too late, and that he follows through on pushing his proposals. If he gets bogged down in negotiations or compromises on only what the GOP wants, then this will be just another waste of time political speech and he will not shake doubts about his leadership or effectiveness.

Thanks for the post.

What's in it for Republicans to play ball on this? Didn't they prove this past summer they were willing to take huge risks on the "hope" they could make Obama look ineffective?

Yes they did take those risks, and the outcome wasn't great for them--look at their polling numbers. I'm not sure how they propose to improve them. But I never forget Mitch McConnell's confession that the thing he cares most about is denying Obama reelection.

I love your chats! You are charming! And so...wrong! "Gives good speech?" So does my teen. Does not mean much in the real world of high school, or D.C. McCain was right in saying Obama "sounds good" but we are mired in a mess. Good speech = baloney.

Charming and wrong? Well, it could be a lot worse! Thanks for posting.

When this chat ends, check out Michele Bachmann's response to President Obama's speech.

I was impressed with Obama's patriotic convictions, which many of my conservative family members routinely doubt. The desire to have a citizenship that can compete in the global economy of today (not to mention tomorrow!) without backsliding on environmental regulations and laws supporting collective bargaining and fair pay is about as patriotic as you can get in my book. This is why America is really a great country--we're united and see things through when we agree they're the right thing to do for our land and its people. (But yes--where are the "Made in USA" smart phones?)

Thanks for posting.

Thanks for taking our questions this evening. I am wondering, with only knowing the high level details, what would be the chances that this bill actually makes it through both houses? While there are aspects that each party supports, what are the chances each party is actually willing to compromise. I am still not certain the perfectly balanced bill could make it through congress because no one is willing to compromise

This makes a good last question for a lively chat. Thanks to all for participating. I love readers!

The chances are slim. The Republicans' commitment to "no new taxes" and big cuts in manyprograms seem very strong to me; even if they wanted to change course, and I see no evidence that they do, how could they pull it off? Mssrs. Ryan and Cantor have cast their fate with a minimalist-government approach. They obviously believe strongly in it. As Obama made clear tonight, this holds no appeal for him. So it's much more likely that we saw the first round of the Obama re-election campaign tonight than that we saw the first step toward creative action to avoid a second recession.

Good night to all.

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Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser is Associate Editor of The Washington Post.
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