I must confess, having got up at 4:00 a.m. yesterday, I fell asleep during the SOTU! I'd like to blame Obama, because I didn't much like what I did see, but that would be unfair... I did not like the military bookends; I thought they bordered on jingoistic. Drawing a hard line under $1 million in income for a much higher effective tax rate than anyone pays is a gimmick: the tax code needs reform, and it needs to be made more progressive, but not that way. Couldn't you cut your taxes in half by getting your reportable income down to $999k? I did not hear any clear-cut contrast between Republican plans to further cut taxes on the wealthy and shred the safety net and a vision of the tax code that would raise sufficient new revenue while allowing for Obama's "win the future investments" (did I sleep through it?) I remain frustrated, as I have been since 2007, by Obama's repeated pledges not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $200k (or $250 for a family). And jiggering the tax code to discourage outsourcing -- an elusive mirage that I remember parsing when Kerry proposed it -- is a lame centerpiece for a discussion of retooling the U.S. economy. The proposals for revamped job training and teacher incentives were studiously vague. Suddenly Obama is against teaching to the test? Isn't that what Race to the Top has been all about? And how exactly did he say we're going to control tuition inflation?
This is obviously not the year for tax reform, and a Clintonesque blancmange may suit Obama's purposes. But the SOTU struck me as a pretty lame followup to Osawatomie, where Obama did cleanly contrast competing economic prescriptions. Or so I thought last night. I will try to take a closer look sometime in the next two days.