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Obama Gives Strong Jobs Speech, Decries “Race to the Bottom, Where We Try to Offer the … Worst Pollution Standards”

By Joe Romm  

"Obama Gives Strong Jobs Speech, Decries “Race to the Bottom, Where We Try to Offer the … Worst Pollution Standards”"

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As a matter of rhetoric, the President’s big job speech exceeded expectations, a solid A.  He used simple language and repetition — the cornerstones of effective public speaking — to promote his “American Jobs Act.”  He repeated some variation of the phrase “Pass this bill” 17times (see transcript here).

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who, like many of us, has been highly critical of just how mealymouthed Obama has become, said it was “probably his most rousing political performance in a long while.”  HuffPost’s Howard Fineman writes, “Obama Puts Passion Into Speech Rarely Seen In His Presidency.”  If only Obama had been speaking this way for the past couple of years….

On substance, it was a solid B.  The biggest disappointment was that he never mentioned clean energy by name as a focus area.  No, I’m not going to keep giving him a failing grade for not talking about climate change in a jobs speech focused on the near term — although this speech shows precisely what he could have done 2 years ago to get the climate and clean energy jobs bill passed.

The most Obama said on clean energy was to continue his theme that clean energy is a core job-creating industry of the near future:

If we provide the right incentives and support – and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules – we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world.  That’s how America can be number one again.

And I have the Fact Sheet for the AJA, which points out the $25 billion school modernization effort can be used for “greening and energy efficiency upgrades.”  This is similar to the “Fix America’s Schools Today” initiative you can read about here.

The President also offered a strong defense for maintaining rules and regulations even during this tough times:

I agree that there are some rules and regulations that put an unnecessary burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it.  That’s why I ordered a review of all government regulations.  So far, we’ve identified over 500 reforms, which will save billions of dollars over the next few years.  We should have no more regulation than the health, safety, and security of the American people require.  Every rule should meet that common sense test.

But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades.  I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety.  I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients.  I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy.  We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards.  America should be in a race to the top.  And I believe that’s a race we can win.

Too bad he didn’t apply his impassioned defense where it mattered most — the ozone rule he caved on.

Still, I’m going to take a glass half-full view of the speech.  If this indicates a reinvigorated president rhetorically and politically, then that is something to be positive about.

Related Post:

‹ Kate Gordon On Clean Energy Policy: We Are ‘Squabbling While Rome Burns’

China’s New Plan for Solar Power Supremacy ›

43 Responses to Obama Gives Strong Jobs Speech, Decries “Race to the Bottom, Where We Try to Offer the … Worst Pollution Standards”

  1. pretzelattack says:

    so the speech trumps the actual action of caving on epa regulations? wait and see what he does on the pipeline.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Not what I said.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      We don’t have to wait and see what Obama does on the pipeline, since all of the signals are that he’s going to allow it. That makes speeches like this little more than talk.

      Unless he surprises us, I’m putting Obama on my Most Heinous Climate Villains list this year, along with Andy Revkin. A lot of us are sick of faux progressives who tremble before the oil companies.

      • Mark Shapiro says:

        Did you leave any room on your list for Murdoch and Koch?

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          ‘Hall of Infamy’, Foundation Members.

          • Sasparilla says:

            You gave me good laugh there Mulga, goodness I need more of those these days.

            Yes, indeed Hall of Infamy, Foundation Members. Both will land in something like that in history because of the active roles they’ve played in betraying humanity at a global scale.

            Mike, I think you’re right on. I’d put his overall presidency on that list, not just this year, mostly for the tar sands exploitation, since its effects will be so dire and once the pipelines are there it’ll be virtually impossible to turn them off – he approved Keystone 1 to the midwest refineries in the summer of 2009 months after getting into office.

  2. President Obama’s Strategy includes these objectives:
    · Restore or modernize America’s infrastructure,
    · Develop and deploy clean-energy technology, and
    · Create jobs and Restore America’s economic health. 

    Whatever strategy the President articulates to stimulate jobs, if it’s dependent on Congressional approval, likely it will be blocked solely to deny him any success and to achieve Senator McConnell’s stated objective to limit President Obama to one term. 

    If President Obama is to succeed in implementing the above objectives, he must find a way to work around the 112th Congress. The opinion piece referenced below proposes that President Obama appeal directly to wealthy individuals, private corporations, and state governors to establish and fund several single-purpose consortiums to achieve the above objectives.

    What is a consortium? 
    Please see the brief summary descriptions of “Commercial”, “Airbus example”, and “Coopetition”:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consortium

    The opinion piece referenced below suggests some ideas that might lead to viable ways for the President to legally work independently of the 112th Congress.  Please consider these suggestions, not as fully-developed, detailed solutions, but instead as a conceptual framework within which to develop a solid and workable strategy that enables Obama to achieve the above objectives.
    http://www.stephen-heitmann.info/content/what-could-obama-do-bypass-congress.pdf

    • prokaryotes says:

      Check out + follow these twitter feeds
      http://twitter.com/whitehouse

      “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans—including many who sit here tonight.” http://twitter.com/BarackObama

      • President Obama’s speech, at least, was a call to Republican action. And yes, he did state several times that his plan even includes elements that would have been supported by somewhat functional bipartisan Congresses in years past, prior to the 111th Congress.

        Problem is, the 112th Congress is today, not years past, and it’s dysfunctional, comprised of right-wing Republicans (rwGOP) who are too ignorant, incompetent, intellectually-challenged, or anti-American to respond to any constructive call to action.

        The obstructionist actions of the rwGOP in the 111th and 112th Congresses are absolutely consistent with Senator McConnell’s stated objective to limit President Obama to one term, and, by their actions, at any cost or destructive consequence.

        One strong speech by President Obama that invokes a distant bipartisanship will not, in my opinion, suddenly cause the rwGOP to act inconsistently. Of course, I hope I’m 100% wrong in this case… as “14 months is too long to wait.”

        • Lily says:

          I fully agree with you that the GOP is acting to ruin Obama’s chances of re-election AT ANY COST.
          I think their actions are traitorous. But can’t think of specific points and don’t know of any laws that they may be breaking. They have definitely thrown out the concept of elected officials reflecting the will of the people. Instead have opted to conduct a coup of sorts.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Another ‘strong speech’, the latest in many. Now what makes you think that the concrete actions will differ from the invariable pattern of retreat that we have seen since 2009? I know that ‘hope springs eternal’, but there must surely be a limit. And, if Obama acts decisively now, what explains the last two and a half years?

    • Joe Romm says:

      No, I don’t think he has given a strong speech in a long time. Can’t really think of the last one, actually.

      He was decisive in the first few months. And again briefly after the midterms. And, of course, with Bin Laden.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Believe me, I look around at the children and hope and pray that Obama means it, but there is so much more to do, and the very first priority must be to cease being determined to see this as a race with China. Unless the hyperpowers and Europe and the other BRICs get together, it will all be to no avail. We’ll hang together or hang separately.

    • Perhaps I have misunderstood the meaning of your comment, and, if so, I apologize and do not intend to be offensive. However, you express yourself as though you believe the Executive Branch, i.e. President Obama, et al, can actually dictate legislation or policy just because he’s President. In fact, it’s apparent to me that many people seem to have this expectation of the President. This is not so—it’s not how our government works. But if this is the general belief, then no wonder so many Americans have fallen expectations of this “Yes We Can” President.

      Aside from veto power and executive orders, the Executive Branch has virtually no power, as defined in the Constitution, to establish legislation or to allocate funds, independent of Congress. If any President issues an executive order that requires funds to implement, Congress must approve those funds. The Executive Branch, as we’ve seen, can’t even, except for emergency need during Congressional recess, make needed executive and judicial appointments without Congressional confirmation.

      That’s why the Presidential “bully pulpit” to motivate the electorate, use of strong, convincing, motivational speeches, and persuasive negotiations with key Congressional members—all are so essential for any President in regards to implementing his/her agenda. And, although Obama is a powerful orator, he has failed miserably, imo, to effectively use this form of influence via the mass media to rally Americans to pressure Congress.

      Nonetheless, because the 111th and 112th Congress has been obsessively obstructionist, the right-wing Republican (rwGOP) Congress, not President Obama, is responsible for his inability to achieve his agenda, and that’s why Obama needs to be developing a Congressional work-around strategy.

      There’s one exception to my foregoing comments. Obama’s dysfunctional loyalty to bipartisanship resulted in his missing, imo, a pivotal opportunity during the 111th Congress to rally Democrats to legislate significant facets of his agenda. Democrats still had a numerical majority, although not the 60 seats needed to prevent the rwGOP from using their instrument of obstruction, the filibuster. Yet Democrats had sufficient seats to use Reconciliation—specifically for financial issues—to raise needed taxes, to raise the debt ceiling, to extend unemployment benefits, to effect strong financial reforms (including closing corporate tax loopholes), to assure sufficient stimulus funds to be effective, especially for infrastructure restoration and clean energy subsidies, and even to pass the American Jobs Act a year or more ago—all of this could have been accomplished prior to the end of the 111th Congress by applying Reconciliation. For reasons unknown to me and that will forever mystify me, Pelosi, Reid and Obama chose to not seize this opportunity.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Actions speak louder than words, and 450 billion could be a lot of action.

  5. otter17 says:

    Sigh, no mention of climate change or clean energy, eh?

    I guess President Obama is all about strategy. Maybe he is waiting for his second term before he really presses the climate issue with any force. Sigh, where’s the courage in that strategy, though? Four years to continue increasing the risk/damage for future generations, bull crap.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    I thought it was a good speech as well, better than I feared, not nearly what I hoped. That said, with regards to the juice for the economy, while the tax decreases for workers will put some money directly into the economy (good) all the garbage about giving companies (which have record amounts of cash) tax breaks for new workers is a waste – companies are not hiring because demand is not there (not because they need a tax break)…particularly for the economy he agonizingly seems to miss the forest for the trees.

    With regards to green energy – at this point anything tied directly to him, by him saying it is put in the cross hairs by the GOPs, so I’m not too worried about him not pushing it right now (its not like green energy is going anywhere in the House even if they didn’t deliberately kill whatever he put his name on).

    My personal opinion on green energy is that if the GOP sweeps the House, Senate and Presidency next year (god forbid), I would fully anticipate them killing all existing clean energy support of any kind (Wind, Solar, plug-in vehicles you name it) in the name of budget savings – its what the Koch’s and Co. are guiding them to do. They already have the PR machine trying to say Green Energy is a failure, I would expect that to be consistently and deliberately repeated in their alternate PR reality in preparation for a sweep next year. Hope I’m wrong on that.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      In Australia, state governments in Victoria and New South Wales of our illiberal ‘Liberal’ Party (long allied to the Republican wing of your ruling Business Party) having won recent elections, are setting out to sabotage renewable energy, with some gusto. Not that they were entirely candid about these policies before the elections. Public opinion is, of course, irrelevant. Money opinion is consulted assiduously.The Victorian regime, in particular, is zealously opposed to all environmental policies, and is heavily into union-bashing as well. This will, naturally, be the policy direction Federally when Tony Abbott, our Rick Perry at heart, but practised in dissembling, becomes PM, which could be quite soon.

      • Sasparilla says:

        Mulga, its amazing how far and how fast we (climate change action) have been “losing” since 2008…

        I hope things get better for you guys down under, sounds much like what we have up here.

  7. dana1981 says:

    The tone of the speech alone was a good sign. He seems to have re-grown some spine, which is critical. The jobs bill itself isn’t too shabby either. Republicans will likely block it, but if so, that will give Democrats a big issue to run on in the next election. And if they have a good election, Obama’s spine will probably continue to re-generate.

    It’s just one speech, and just one bill, but it’s a step in the right direction after a lot of steps in the wrong direction.

  8. Climate Hawk says:

    Obama also mentioned wanting three more “Free Trade” deals. These deals routinely cause jobs to leak out of our economy in large numbers. While I’ll concede that he was on his game rhetorically, I think on balance his proposals will do little to create jobs. And we all know the House won’t green light any of this stuff. It is all just re-election positioning. Obama has talked about jobs on many occasions and never delivered them. And let’s not forget that he effectively agreed with republicans that deficit reduction was more important than job creation. He’s also mouthed reactionary economic nonsense far too often to ever emerge from the corner he’s painted himself in.

  9. I agree with Joe. It was a really good speech. Something I haven’t heard from Obama in a long, long time. So it shows that he CAN be a strong communicator who defines and defends basic values.

    It wasn’t about climate so I don’t really have a problem with him skipping it.

    Also everyone on planet Earth now knows that the GOP will block anything Obama tries to do for the country. Period. Getting bills through the GOP House is not going to happen for anything at this point. It is 100% campaign mode now.

    Obama showed 4 year ago that he is a very good campaigner. And now that he is back in campaign mode he seems to be confident again. The GOP are going to have a very hard time beating Obama the Campaigner.

    Sadly it doesn’t change the fact that Obama hasn’t done enough on climate…hasn’t even done what he promised on climate…and shows no sign of doing what is needed to keep Americans out of harms way from a destabilizing climate system.

    As Joe also points out, by giving a speech this good Obama just highlights how badly he underperformed on the climate effort early in his term.

    Speech = A. Campaign savvy = A. Defending some progressive American values = B. But his climate grade remains unchanged: D.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Has anyone considered that it has taken Obama time to comprehend the extent of the Tea party madness? That he had somehow found himself in “1984″ where jobs created were jobs lost, where the rich became the poor needing tax cuts and where solid science was a communist conspiracy? Where any attempt to do the normal, sane political things such as compromise or reach common ground was simply laughed at?

    You can say that perhaps he was a slow learner but there are still mornings when I read the overnight news from the USA and have to check the mental apparatus several times before I become convinced that Bachmann, Perry, Palin etc actually said what was reported from them in quotation marks.

    I think it took the debacle of the debt ceiling to finally convince him he had wandered into “1984″. Now he knows where he is, I’m sure you will see more talk of ‘circuses’ and appeals direct to the people, essentially bypassing the opposition apart from the occasional attempt to shame them into at least recognizing their responsibilities to the nation, ME

    • Ed Hummel says:

      Merrelyn, I hope for all our sakes that you’re right in your assessment of the president’s re-awakening! It sure would be refreshing to think that he will actually use his power of office to fight the obstructionists and go directly to the people in his most effective campaign mode. Perhaps he might even do something more positive about the climate and general environmental problems. It sure would be nice to think that he would reverse himself on the ozone standards and maybe even reject the pipeline later this fall. And maybe he’ll even start taking straight to the American people and to the world about the true nature of the problems we face and how our strategies must be truly radical in order to stabilize the climate and other environmental crises. However, I think I’ll retain a bit of skepticism until I see more than just a long-overdue good speech from Mr. Obama.

    • Yes, I have. At first, his loyalty to bipartisanship was laudatory; but it was obvious to me, only 6 months after he took office, the right-wing Republicans (rwGOP) had no intention whatsoever of working with Obama on anything—they were choosing not to contribute toward creating solutions, and even though they’d proven themselves failures as leaders, with failed policies, by the 4th month, they were already showing they’d take no responsibility for their failures and they were not smart enough to get out of the way, and were, consequently, mere obstructionists.

      At first, I was completely mystified that Obama didn’t seem to recognize the reality of this situation. Now, I posit that, although, Obama is a well-educated, brilliant and rational academic, he has no “street smarts”. He’s sort of a “babe in the woods”, who doesn’t know how to deal with liars, bullies, blackmailers, power-mongers, street fighters, or anyone who plays to win with scorched-earth tactics.

      Imo, the average rwGOP IQ is at least 30 points below Obama’s IQ… and he’s accustomed to working with people whose intelligence, education, and rational approach to problem-solving is similar to his own, so, he, like most of us, projects the reality of his own experience. It’s not so much that he’s spineless (although I think many of the Congressional Democrats are)—more that he has no experience dealing with people so dumb that they could act against their own best interests. For what it’s worth, that’s my theory.

      The part I still don’t understand is his failure to make strong and frequent use of the “bully pulpit” to counter the rwGOP’s disinformation campaign, consisting of lies and Orwellian double-speak. If the rwGOP could use the mass media to propagate their lies, why didn’t Obama use it to tell the truth?

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Partly because of the reasons you explained. He doesn’t come from the streets but from a ‘nice’ family and ‘nice’ people don’t exploit their advantages to expose the dumbness, or more likely, the ideology, self interest and racism of others.

        Let’s hope he has been on the streets long enough now, ME

  11. Paul magnus says:

    Joe ur recent articles have been right on the money.
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Dan Ives says:

    Obama Talk: “I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards.”
    Obama Action: Cave in on ozone standard in the name of “regulatory certainty” (which was his sole decision, no Congressional obstruction).

    When will progressives learn to ignore what Obama says and instead pay more attention to what he DOES? It’s not like Obama is somehow above blatantly lying to us, as the health care debate clearly demonstrated. Yes, the man can give a good, passionate speech. But how many times are we going to let that fool us?

    • sault says:

      How did he lie in the healthcare debate? He supported a Public Option but then he saw that it had become a lightning rod for right-wing opposition and foresaw that it would never pass. In the end, HCR was the ABSOLUTE most progressive bill that could have passed Congress at the time. Please consider the legislative contortions and useless verbiage they had to put in there even just to satisfy Rep. Stupak to see how close that bill was to not passing.

      Yeah, the President should have walked into the negotiations with Single Payer on the table, but nobody knows if that action would have destroyed the extremely fragile coalition that ended up passing the bill we got. Maybe he could have given more passionate speeches about climate change legislation, but once Sen. Lindsey Grahm heard all those Faux “News” dittoheads calling him a Communist, he had to jump ship. You have to realize that senators representing 10% of the population can stall legislation that the other 90% of people want and the President has had most of his agenda hamstrung by this fact. HCR only passed because they bypassed the senate filibuster with reconciliation. Try doing that with more than one high-profile bill a presidential term (all while not being a Republican), and the independent voters / media narrative will turn against you very quickly, making it all but impossible to accomplish anything else.

      • Reconciliation can be used once per calendar year, i.e. 4 times per Presidential term. Bush used it to pass all three tax cuts (that have caused, along with 2 unpaid-for wars of choice, so much fiscal damage). In total, I believe Republicans have used reconciliation 23 times, while Democrats have managed to grow enough spine to use it a whopping 6 times.

  13. Yes, Obama gave another great speech. It really seems that’s all he can do. While Congress is required for some actions, Obama’s failure to use the mighty power of the executive branch reveals that he has no stomach for confrontation, but only an insatiable need for approval. The only hope for a better next term is if some brave Democrat stepped up and beat him in the primaries.

    • This underscores my comment under item #3 above. The Executive Branch has no “mighty powers” to enact legislation. One could argue that in our “balance of powers” system of government, the Executive Branch is the weak link in the chain. I often feel sorry for Obama–who has consistently asserted a practical, constructive, and even common sense agenda–that he gets such a bad rap by so many Americans who don’t seem to fundamentally understand how our government works.

      • Obama didn’t use the executive branch to go after the people who wrecked wall street; he most recently hasn’t even implemented the ozone rules; and apparently he won’t oppose the pipeline. Just a few of many things the executive branch could do without congress. Most importantly, he won’t stand up to congress for important principles. He prefers to compromise endlessly.

  14. Mark Shapiro says:

    Yes, Obama is less than perfect. So are the Koch brothers, News Corp, and the rest of the coal and oil companies and the press.

    Climate hawks will ALWAYS have an uphill battle. Coal, oil, and gas earn trillions per year.

    Did any of us think this was going to be easy? Let’s wrap up our complaining and get back to work.

  15. adelady says:

    Thank you, Merrelyn.

    You expressed my thoughts more clearly than I was ever going to.

    The other thing that Australians and others from parliamentary style democracies overlook is the hidebound structure of USA authority. The constitutional arrangements were originally designed to box in the President in a way that the Brits had been unable to do up until that time with the monarchy.

    Britain and the parliamentary commonwealth countries have been able to gradually, and successfully, move away from untrammelled power of the monarchy and create effective governing systems. The USA model has effectively entrenched the 18th century King and Cabinet separated from democratically elected bodies. The *only* difference being election of the person in the ‘king’ role.

    Works just fine when people respect each other, or at least their stated roles. When respect and cooperation are withdrawn, the whole thing collapses.

    • The historical motivation for European migration to North America was to escape the tyranny and oppression of the monarchs. Much later, the framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically wanted to assure that the Executive Branch could not acquire the potentially oppressive power of a monarch. Consequently, as mentioned in my entry #13 comment, the Executive Branch is, by design, the weakest link in the chain comprising our form of government.

      Although I agree that respect and cooperation are required to enable progress, I disagree that without it, the whole thing necessarily collapses.

      For example, as long as everything in a business partnership goes smoothly, a contract is generally unnecessary, unless there’s a disagreement or something doesn’t go as planned–then, a well-written contract is essential and serves to establish rules of resolution when both parties disagree and so forth.

      Analogously, imo, the dysfunction we are witnessing is due to poorly constructed Congressional rules of resolution (which is amusingly ironic, because most Congressional members are lawyers, and that may be part of the problem, but that’s another issue).

      As just one example of several, not only is the filibuster inappropriate today as a method to facilitate resolution, did you know that the Senate rules allow a group of senators to just schedule a filibuster, but aren’t actually required to be on the Senate floor, i.e. they can go have coffee or go back to their offices? So, they can block a bill just by scheduling a series of large blocks of time for a “filibuster”. This does nothing to facilitate resolution.

      Yes. During the 111th Congress, that was the rwGOP’s method to obstruct Obama’s legislative agenda. Criminal and sad, but true.

      • adelady says:

        Good grief!

        One current furore in our Oz parliamentary shemozzle is exactly the opposite. Insisting that everyone show up, on the floor, all the time, even when they have funerals or births to attend. (Though this last one has now been nipped in the bud. Apparently even the Libs couldn’t stomach their leader refusing the process that would allow a member of another party to attend the birth of his child.)

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thanks Adelady and thanks also to Steve Heitmann for his excellent clarifications, ME