As a matter of rhetoric, President Obama’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” 17 times (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 two 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 No. 1 again.
And the fact sheet for the American Jobs Act points out that 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.