Obama’s Speech at Knox College


If the United States were a country with a well-functioning political media, I doubt President Obama would’ve had to give the speech he gave Wednesday on the economy and the middle class. After all, in a country where a clear majority of people consider themselves middle or upper-middle class, you’d expect issues pertaining to the middle class to be front-and-center, especially during times of economic strife. You wouldn’t need the president and his staff to manufacture a “big speech” to draw attention to the issue. You’d see the president responding to an ongoing conversation — not trying to start one himself.

But for many reasons — not least among them inequality and class segregation —we don’t have that kind of media. So Obama gave his speech. And it was, as far as Obama speeches go, OK. The substance was in many ways a retelling of the narrative he first unveiled last year in Kansas, the story of inequality and the dying middle class. There were some new flourishes, including a harder partisan bite (“a faction of Republicans in the House” don’t come off particularly well). But the speech wasn’t an attempt to break new ground, and it wasn’t billed as such.

In fact, it’s something of a mistaken approach to view this speech as a one-off. By all accounts it’s more of an opening volley of what will be an eight-week, campaign-style effort by the White House to divert the media’s focus onto the issues Obama wants to talk about. Keeping in mind that Obama is already thisclose to being something of a lame duck — and that no major legislation, besides maybe immigration reform, will be able to pass both the House and the Senate — I think E.J. Dionne has the best sense of what the president is trying to do:

Presidents are judged not only by the things they do but also by how successful they are in influencing the actions of the presidents who follow.

Leaders who want their achievements to endure know that their task includes changing the terms of the national debate and leaving behind an intellectual legacy that shapes how future generations see the country and its possibilities.

If the Democratic primary for 2016 is an extended debate on how best to combat inequality, then Obama’s speech will have done its job. Even if the media hasn’t.

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7 thoughts on “Obama’s Speech at Knox College

  1. If the United States were a country with a well-functioning political media, I doubt President Obama would’ve had to give the speech he gave Wednesday on the economy and the middle class.

    Please define “well-functioning political media”. I check RealClearMarkets every day and have been doing so for quite a few years now. There is plenty of attention being paid to this issue. Much of it, right or wrong, it criticism of the Adminstration’s approach to handling the economic issues. Is it a functioning media or a sympathetic media that you speak? The former exists; the latter not so much.

    You’d see the president responding to an ongoing conversation — not trying to start one himself.

    As I believe that there is an ongoing conversation, I believe he is responding to it.

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    • Yeah, it could’ve been published any given month over the past five years.

      Pivoting once or twice is a course change. Pivoting a hundred times is twirling around like a ballerina without going anywhere.

      Yesterday I posted my thoughts elsewhere, so I’ll just toss them in:

      To me, Obama has always been like the typical liberal college kid who can drone on for hours about all the things they could easily fix (by applying the usual liberal, college-age, socialist fixes that have failed every time they’ve been tried), yet whose actual core competency is playing hacky sack and day dreaming about ruling the world.

      When he first ran for President, someone observed that Obama would be a masterful motivational speaker for church youth groups and high schools, perhaps one of the best, but that there was little sign of any other abilities.

      Truly, he could convince people to build a pyramid with his ringing words and mellifluous baritone. Unfortunately we’re five years in to the project and the construction site is still a disorganized pile of stone blocks. The laborers are idly perched on top of them, listening to yet another speech about his ingenious plans to build the world’s tallest pyramid (from the top down), but lo, the project is vexed by Apophis, Heket, greedy Jewish construction supervisors, a disloyal priesthood, the depleted stone reserves in accessible rock quarries, and dreaded climate change that is upsetting Nile floods – despite his entreaties to Hapi (god of the Nile) to forgive the Egyptian companies and farm interests for abusing the river.

      Like most of the previous speeches, he explains that he will refocus on the task at hand and, by overcoming all the obstacles (none of which are his fault, of course), and by bringing us together, this time he is going to make some progress.

      The workers sit unmoved, sweltering in the heat, having concluded that the Pharaoh, though convinced he is a living god, is just too dumb to stack blocks. They return to their lunches and await the day when they can toss the pharaoh’s useless body down a tunnel in the Valley of the Kings, bury the entrance with sand and gravel, and write him out of history.

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