New Look, Same Great ... Boring Taste

In 2005, Barack Obama delivered a commencement addressat Knox College in Illinois. It was one of the clearest expressions of progressive ideology a national figure had delivered in decades, an argument against "Social Darwinism" and the trickle-down policies that had gripped Washington for years in favor of a realization that our fates are bound together—and that government's policies should reflect that. It told the story of American history as one in which the forces of radical individualism faced off against those who wanted to act collectively for the benefit of all, and those who believe we're all in it together triumphed.

He returned to Knox College today to deliver another speech on the economy. This one was much longer, clocking in at over 5,000 words. There were echoes of that speech eight years ago, as when he said, "We haven't just wanted success for ourselves—we've wanted it for our neighbors, too. When we think about our own communities, we're not a mean people, we're not a selfish people, we're not a people that just looks out for number one. Why should our politics reflect those kinds of values?" But overall, this was a much less ambitious vision, sounding more like a State of the Union than a vision for the future. It even had a five-point plan: more manufacturing jobs, better education, more opportunities for home ownership, a secure retirement, and implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Which is all well and good, but it amounts to a restatement of things he's been saying for years. As Kevin Drum ofMother Jones wrote, why not propose some radical things, since Republicans are going to oppose whatever he supports anyway? "If you're going to meet an adamantine wall no matter what you do, why not shoot for the stars? At least that way you've made it clear whose side you're on. Obama's speech got in some good shots at the Republican Party's continuing economic derangement, but he needs more than that."

At this point thought, it's a little hard to discern what he needs. The best we may hope for out of Congress over the next three and a half years is a limit to the damage they can do by ginning up one manufactured crisis after another, and there are limits to what Obama can accomplish with executive action alone. Of course, an acknowledgement of that reality is't exactly something that will stir your heart and get you leaping to your feet with a cheer.


People have said many things about my husband—some nice, some not so nice. And that will surely continue. Launching this campaign was not an easy decision for our family to make. Putting yourself out there comes with a cost.

Huma Abedin, writing in September's Harper's Bazaar


  • Obama finished his big economic speech only a couple hours ago, but pundits and politicians have been commenting on it all day.
  • In a House floor speech this morning, John Boehner called the address “an Easter Egg with no candy in it.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell compared it to a “midday rerun of some ’70s B movie.”
  • While Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney's former advisor, compared it to  Galaxy Quest.
  • The Weekly Standard was, unsurprisingly, not impressed.
  • Ezra Klein wrote, "That was a lot of hype for precious little speech."
  • Celinda Lake wishes the president had chosen a snappier slogan. “If you just say‘middle out’ people aren’t so clear what you’re talking about."
  • Kevin Drum wishes Obama had gone bigger, because what does he have to lose? "Obama could announce that John Galt has invented a free energy machine and just needs a small federal grant to commercialize it, and Republicans would oppose it. Obama could announce anything at all, and Republicans will reflexively oppose it."


  • Jonathan Bernstein argues that even if certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act become successful, it does not guarantee political gains for Democrats and could score few points for Republicans.
  • Gabriel Arana explains how House Republicans' push for allowing for legalization of young undocumented immigrants might imperil their parents' future status.


  • As President Obama talks about economic development, House Republicans arelooking to slash parts of the budget that he plans to use to spur growth.
  • Dahlia Lithwick writes that "North Carolina is proving itself to be the poster child forall that is wrong with modern American democracy."
  • The House just voted to prevent the Department of Defense from allowing atheist chaplains in the military.
  • Bob McDonnell is trying to make his scandal go away as much as possible, returning over $100,000 worth of loans and gifts, before heading off to Afghanistan and making no comments on his foibles.
  • Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is seen as the front runner for Fed Chairman, but Noam Scheiber wants there to be consideration of a few factors before the selection.
  • Public opinion of race relations has taken a dive after the Zimmerman verdict.


Nearly three quarters of those polled in The Washington Post's latest survey say the NSA programs leaked last month infringe on some privacy rights. The same poll showed that 47 percent of Americans think the program has little impact on national security, 42 percent say it improves national security and 5 percent say it makes the country less safe.

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