For millions of unemployed American workers, President Obama's State of the Union proposals offered little hope that they were going to find a job anytime soon.
With few exceptions, this was an address filled with small, timid, long-term government spending proposals that won't be fueling the 4 percent to 5 percent economic growth needed to bring unemployment down to even 8 percent in the next year or two. And we're a long way from the 4.7 percent level we saw in 2007, before the recession hit.
In a White House empty of new ideas beyond its failed $1 trillion spending stimulus, Obama fell back on the same old proposals he has been peddling for two years: more infrastructure spending on federal clean-energy subsidies (wind, solar, battery, etc.), bigger federal R&D budgets for new technology development and a line of public-works projects for roads, bridges and high-speed rail lines.
But these spending projects, which will add half a trillion dollars to our debt, are years from becoming economically viable (if they ever will be) or producing the large numbers of jobs we need now, if they ever do.
The public-works projects end when the money runs out and take years to get into the pipeline, and so do the jobs. High-speed rail lines come with huge up-front costs, and past experience shows they are not self-supporting, and never will be.
While motorists wait for affordable clean energy, they are being soaked by $3- to $4-a-gallon gas prices because Obama has stopped drilling for new sources of oil, and that is imposing a brutal tax on all drivers, businesses and our economy.
He talked much about our economy becoming more competitive in the global marketplace, but until recently he has been hostile to free-trade deals to open up new markets for American products and had shelved three trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama under orders from union bosses.
He allowed fast-track trade negotiating authority to expire, thus making new market-expanding deals more difficult to achieve and pass Congress. This is a guy who has talked a lot about jobs but whose economic policies ignored the promise of growing exports and trade to put more Americans back to work.Apparently, he changed his tune in the face of a jobless rate that has been stuck between 9 percent and 10 percent during the first half of his presidential term. Meanwhile, millions of jobless Americans have suffered needlessly as China, India and other competitors gobbled up new job-creating export markets and U.S. trade policy was frozen.
Obama proposed, seemingly in passing, that competitiveness could be improved by lowering the 35 percent corporate tax rate that is the second highest in the world. But he said so little about cutting the tax by eliminating loopholes and broadening the tax base (the news media gave it short shrift) that we must wonder whether he is going make this a high priority, or if it's merely part of a transparent shift toward the center to gain traction for the 2012 campaign. Despite signing the Bush tax-cut extension against his will, Obama is not a tax-rate cutter.
The corporate tax-rate-cut idea did not come from the West Wing but from Obama's presidential commission on the budget. The panel called for simplifying the tax code and broadening the tax base by erasing a number of special-interest tax preferences that will help lower the top tax rates for businesses and individual taxpayers to 28 percent.
But Obama's heavy focus was not on cutting taxes -- he pointedly ignored small business altogether -- it was all about more spending that he said would create jobs. Call his policy Stimulus II. And you all know how well Stimulus I worked.
Obama called on us to find that "Sputnik moment," when the Russians succeeded in putting a satellite in space and provided a wake-up call to America that we had fallen behind in science and space exploration. He called on us to dream big things, and pointed to John F. Kennedy's initiative to go to the moon and back, pointing out that, a decade later, it led to a multitude of new technologies, industries and jobs.
That was not what got the country's lackluster economy moving again. It was Kennedy's across-the-board income-tax-rate cuts that accelerated economic growth and led to budget surpluses to boot. The president avoided this fact like the plague.
Obama desperately pleaded with the country to once again think big things. But there were few real growth incentives in Obama's economic bag of remedies that would open up opportunities for Americans to once again reach for the stars, and get there.
That challenge awaits a new leader in 2012.