State of disunion

President’s speech fails to explain the fundamental issue facing the nation

What was President Obama trying to accomplish with his

State of the Union speech Tuesday night (Jan. 24)? It was filled with small-ball micro-policies (tax credits for hiring vets, merit pay for teachers, that sort of thing) that have zero chance of implementation, given Republican intransigence in the House. And it failed to make a compelling case for its overarching premise that those like his Republican opponents who believe that unfettered capitalism can solve the nation’s problems are living in a fool’s paradise.

The notion that the marketplace, if left to its own devices, will heal all wounds has dominated Washington for more than 30 years. It led us directly into the worst recession since the Great Depression. It’s na•ve to think, as the Republican presidential contenders do, that it will lead us out of our economic morass.

No economic system can flourish without government to build the public infrastructure that makes it possible. And only government can tame the animal spirits that give the marketplace such drive. As we’ve seen all too clearly, the failure of government to constrain Wall Street’s greed led directly to the horrendous recession from which we’re struggling to recover today.

This fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government is not going away. The upcoming presidential election battle will be fought over this very issue. The president had an opportunity Tuesday to make the case for government’s role in humanizing and stabilizing the marketplace and failed to do so in a compelling way. If he wants to be re-elected in November, he’ll have to do a better job when he takes his message on the road.