President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious agenda before the American people and their representatives on Tuesday, striking a note of optimism in a time of gloom.
“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken ... we will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” he said in his first address to Congress.
In thinly veiled criticism of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama said, “We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity.... A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.”
“Now,” he said, “is the time to act boldly and wisely.” The recovery plan he signed into law last week, which would save or create 3.5 million jobs, was only a beginning. “There will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis.”
His administration would ensure that major banks had enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times.
To transform its economy, he said, the United States would have to meet three challenges: 1. make clean, renewable energy profitable (to which end he asked for a market-based cap on carbon pollution); 2. address the crushing cost of health care; and 3. expand the promise of education (including a 2020 goal of again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world).
On the foreign policy front, Obama said a new era of engagement had begun. “With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaeda and combat extremism.”
The speech was repeatedly interrupted by applause.
Louisiana’s Indian-American Governor Bobby Jindal, who had the unenviable task of delivering the Republican response, highlighted a fundamental disagreement about the role of government.
“We appreciate his message of hope,” Jindal said, “but sometimes it seems we look for hope in different places. Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you — the American people.”
While some projects in the recovery bill make sense, the legislation is larded with wasteful spending, he said.
Jindal, who started his speech with his own story as a child of immigrants, “did pretty well,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California Riverside.
Swadesh Chatterjee, chairman of the US-India Friendship Council and a Democrat, said Jindal articulated differences in philosophy very well.
Ashok Mago, a Republican who is chairman of the Dallas based US-India Forum, said the national exposure should help Jindal, who has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate.