I've just watched the whole conference, though, and I thought the whole was the best performance of his presidency. If you crave fight, if you crave lines in the sand and statements of principle and defense of his record, it's all there. There were at least three -- no, four -- macro-messages:
- Republicans' "holy grail" is tax cuts for the wealthy -- that passion defines the party;
- his own top priorities are (short-term) generating growth and jobs and alleviating the struggles of those harmed by the recession and (long-term) funding the linchpins of sustainable growth (education, R&D, infrastructure);
- his "compromises" to date have advanced those goals, which cannot be reached by seeking policy "purity";
- those goals can't be advanced long-term if Republican tax priorities become permanent policy; and
- because he understands and can articulate (has just articulated) all this, he will win the deferred tax cut battle in 2012 (or, I might interpolate, strike a grand tax deal before that deadline that constitutes the kind of "compromise" he defended).
Since there has been so much (justified) angst about Obama's poor messaging in recent months, it's worth a closer look how he defined both parties last night -- points 1 and 2 above (full transcript here).
First, the Republicans according to Obama - a medley:
Well, let me say that on the Republican side, this is their holy grail, these tax cuts for the wealthy. This is -- seems to be their central economic doctrine.. The problem is that Republicans feel that this is the single most important thing that they have to fight for as a party....the truth of the matter is, from the Republican perspective, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the college tuition tax credit, the Child Tax Credit -- all those things that are so important for so many families across the country -- those are things they really opposed....And I think it becomes pretty clear, after you go through the budget line by line, that if in fact they want to pay for $700 billion worth of tax breaks to wealthy individuals, that that’s a lot of money and that the cuts -- corresponding cuts that would have to be made are very painful. So either they rethink their position, or I don’t think they’re going to do very well in 2012.And his own priorities, short-term:
My number one priority is to do what’s right for the American people, for jobs, and for economic growth. I’m focused on making sure that tens of millions of hardworking Americans are not seeing their paychecks shrink on January 1st just because the folks here in Washington are busy trying to score political points.And long-term:
So what are we doing to revamp our schools to make sure our kids can compete? What are we doing in terms of research and development to make sure that innovation is still taking place here in the United States of America? What are we doing about our infrastructure so that we have the best airports and the best roads and the best bridges? And how are we going to pay for all that at a time when we’ve got both short-term deficit problems, medium-term deficit problems, and long-term deficit problems?
Now, that’s going to be a big debate. And it’s going to involve us sorting out what government functions are adding to our competitiveness and increasing opportunity and making sure that we’re growing the economy, and which aspects of the government aren’t helping.
And then we’ve got to figure out how do we pay for that. And that’s going to mean looking at the tax code and saying, what’s fair, what’s efficient. And I don’t think anybody thinks the tax code right now is fair or efficient. But we’ve got to make sure that we don’t just paper over those problems by borrowing from China or Saudi Arabia. And so that’s going to be a major conversation...
So my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there. What is helping the American people live out their lives? What is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy? What is making us more competitive?