Obama’s speech had shockingly little content in defense of his economic policies over the last four years, focusing almost exclusively on results in the manufacturing and energy sectors.
Manufacturing and energy are important. But most Americans do not, and will not, work in these sectors. Obama did not give the sense that he has been working tirelessly to grow the economy as a whole, or that he was fixated on the fact that overall employment has not been rising fast enough.
His plan for the jobs of the future was similarly narrow: further boosting manufacturing with tax and trade policies, further subsidizing energy production, and expanding educational opportunities.
Despite the campaign slogan of “Forward,” this is a plan built on economic nostalgia. Obama talked about reviving the “basic bargain” of the 1950s and shifting the economy back toward manufacturing, in defiance of decades of shifts in demand toward services.
There is little in this jobs agenda for conservatives or liberals to appreciate. To liberals’ chagrin, the president talked as though high unemployment is purely a structural phenomenon, making no nod toward the need for further fiscal or monetary stimulus to raise aggregate demand.
But for conservatives who endorse the structural view of unemployment, the president’s proposals to address that look both small-bore and too heavy on central planning. Neither side should have listened to this speech and come away with the sense that Obama would do better on job creation in his second term than his first.
Some of the non-economic content of tonight’s speech was good, especially the section on foreign policy. Obama convincingly attacked Romney and Ryan as both inexperienced and reckless, saying “they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.”
Foreign policy is an area where Obama has extensive accomplishments to tout, and he did. If this election were being fought on foreign policy, he would deserve to win convincingly.
But overall, the speech sounded really odd coming from someone who is already president. When you’ve been in office for four years, you have to tell us what you’ve done for us lately, and what you’ll do in the future. Obama should have taken some notes from Clinton on how to do that convincingly.
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