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Now the real fight begins

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 2/1/2011, 8:49 a.m.

Now the real fight begins

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was measured, moderate, and in the wake of the Tucson massacre, the paragon of civility. The speech was less of a presidential annual report card on the shape of the nation, and his administration, than a treatise on what the Obama administration will do to create the one thing that the administration has been roundly raked over the coals for: not saying and doing enough to create jobs, jobs and more jobs.

Presidents know that they can talk eloquently in their State of the Union addresses about foreign policy, defense, and wars, the environment, deficits, education and immigration, trade, clean energy, tax code reform and in recent years the war on terrorism, and Obama lightly hit on all these points in his. But the success of their administration, their re-election and their legacy rests on jobs and the economy. The line “It’s the economy, stupid” has time and again proven to be anything but a stale cliché.

The perception that Obama slipped badly in that area was a colossal factor in the “shellacking” that he and the Democrats took in the mid-term elections. The message still hung heavily in the air on the eve of Obama’s second official State of the Union address when polls showed that while he has gotten a solid bump up in his approval ratings, a majority of Americans still give him a D mark on the handling of the economy. He used the time-tested reference to Sputnik. That was the nation’s overdrive rush to beat the Soviets into space, to prod business and political leaders, and the nation to launch a massive program to improve technology, transportation, research and education. This is all aimed at one thing, and that’s to create jobs, and more jobs.

But to do that, it takes money, lots of it. That money can only come from one place, the federal government. Left unsaid in the president’s reference to the Sputnik space and weapons race, was that the country spent billions to reassert its superiority over the Soviets in bombs, and missiles, and to put a man on the moon. It did not shirk on the spending. The political will and unity and funds to do it were there then. Not this time. The GOP’s priority is jobs but not at the expense of more federal spending. And with a $1.4 trillion dollar deficit, and a sizable number of Americans in jitters about the debt, spending the requisite billions is not in the official cards. The official attack point for the GOP has been to paint the Obama administration as reckless and out of control in its spending. And then heap more blame on Obama for allegedly single-handedly creating the deficit nightmare.

GOP Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan in “rebutting” Obama’s address vowed that the GOP would trim $100 billion from the federal budget. Obama tried to walk the fine political tightrope between the public’s thirst for jobs and an improved economy and the GOP’s bellicose call for slash and burn spending cuts by calling for a five-year spending freeze. The freeze would halt all non-security discretionary spending. This came on top of his earlier call for a pay freeze by all federal employees.