Richard Reeves

Obama Is Making More Sense Than the Loyal Opposition

LOS ANGELES -- President Obama said "jobs" 47 times in his State of the Union message last Tuesday night, so we know what's on his mind.

Whether he has the political strength and will to make those ideas -- some pretty good -- into policy and law is the question of the coming year, maybe the coming four years. Press reaction from coast to coast was generally, but cautiously, positive. The New York Times editorial reaction was under a generous headline:

"The President's Challenge to Congress -- In the State of the Union address, Mr. Obama points to a way out of austerity and stalemate."

On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Times editorial reaction was more skeptical, praising the speech but using the headline:

"Obama's New Vision: Doable?"

The vision, it seemed to me, was middle-range. In fact, the president strikes me as a middle-range thinker -- which is long-range compared to most politicians -- but not a visionary, if any exist anymore in national politics. He promoted a good deal of common (and popular) sense about jobs, globalization, climate change, the minimum wage, immigration and guns. This practically makes him Plato compared to his Republican and congressional opposition, which is officially and consistently looking backward to vanilla old days.

The president's address did not come at an easy time. Yes, things do seem to be getting a little better economically, but the Republicans, judging by Sen. Marco Rubio's reaction speech, are going to do their best to block anything proposed by the president -- good, bad or indifferent.

Sen. Rubio, touted by Time magazine as the Republican "savior," repeated old words and ideas, in English and Spanish, that will be little remembered, though his desperate televised lunge for a bottle of water will probably be never forgotten. Good film is like that. In fact, the man from Florida made a fool of himself a couple of times, particularly when he said government can do nothing about the effects of weather.

Out here among the palm trees, the real Republican effort on jobs was being made last week at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Texas Gov. Rick Perry was holed up, trying to persuade California industrialists and employers to move their companies and jobs to Texas. I'm assuming that he wants them to do that before his state makes good on its threats to secede from the Union to become the Lonely Star Republic.

Ironically, the Texas lure is a fraud, based largely on the fact that the lonely stars have no income tax, a real attraction for big bosses and other overpaid folk. Maybe Gerard Depardieu should be looking for a ranch in Perry's domain.

But, as the Los Angeles Times and its economics columnist Michael Hiltzik have shown, the Texas pitch is being made with Confederate dollars.

"The campaign exposes an important shortcoming of Texas' job-development program," wrote Hiltzik recently. "It focuses on using incentives to steal jobs from other states because it's not so hot at creating jobs from scratch. Some of the jobs it has managed to attract are low-skilled manufacturing, call centers, etc., which can just as easily leave when another state decides to offer a better incentive than Texas."

Hiltzik, more specifically, points out that 53 percent of venture investment nationwide was made in California in 2012, where such investments totaled $14 billion compared with $1 billion in Texas. And state business taxes are almost identical in the two states, though they tax different things. Also 40 percent of Texas' budget is supplied by the federal government, compared with 32 percent in California.

The Golden State has a lot of problems, great and small, but it is still making new ships while Texas tries to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Nationally, the Republican Party wants to throw the chairs overboard for everyone not in First Class.

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