Obama And The State Of The Union

Gov. Brewer greeted the president with some Arizona aloha

I very much liked President Obama’s address to Congress. I’m an Obama fan, a middle-to-left voter and a believer that government does make our lives better.

My wife reminded me of the time when thenGov. Ben Cayetano chatted informally with reporters at Washington Place and was puzzled why so many of Hawaii’s young people don’t invest in the Democrats who brought them to what we have today. One reporter replied that “while my parents’ generation was able to buy homes in Kaimuki and Manoa, my generation is struggling to find good jobs and to pay for housing.”

That’s the story across America. Good jobs and pay growth that doesn’t keep up with the escalating cost of housing and the de-escalating ability to get an 80-percent mortgage.

Obama addressed all that but left out something. He didn’t mentioned labor unions making flexibility at the workplace an impossibility.

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a piece on why Apple sent its iPhone assembly to a factory in China. Steve Jobs wanted no-scratch glass on the face. The glass got made but no U.S. factory could do the assembly on short notice. The China factory agreed to awaken its dormitory-domiciled workers at midnight for 12-hour shifts to get the iPhones assembled.

A U.S. assembler would have said, “We need more notice time and how much overtime are you willing to pay?”

Production unions must consider flexibility because there is going to be lots of outside competition for jobs.

I liked Obama mentioning that we need to evaluate schools and their teachers. Pay for performance. Tell dawdling states like ours to get their acts together or lose federal grants.

Overall, Obama went soft on the unions, which bear some blame for our lack of productivity. He declined to antagonize his base. He should have demanded of them some of what he was demanding of business and the states.

We are an exceptional nation in entrepreneurship, innovation, defense technology and gross national product. We’re not exceptional in education opportunities, health coverage, tax codes or dealing with our 12 million illegal immigrants. We’re primitive in those social areas when compared to Europe and Scandinavia.

And then there is Congress. Largely peopled by those with wealth, and wealthy backers and lobbyists for the wealthy. Partisan scared to vote for a good thing if it’s opposed by party leadership GOP members wouldn’t vote for Mom and apple pie if the leadership warned that would make Obama look good at election time.

Most of the bills Obama said he’d sign tomorrow if put on his desk are affordable and needed. But they’d make him look good just before November.

Yes, Obama can be scorched for not demanding union flexibility. But for wanting to go back to the 39.6 percent tax rate on million-dollar earners, I applaud him. That’s not class warfare. That’s something all of us not in that category can get behind because it’s right. We either tax them or we lower the Social Security and Medicare safety net.

The GOP picking the latter ensures Obama’s reelection.

That’s OK by me.

Arriving in Phoenix last Wednesday, Obama got a finger-pointing rebuff from GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, promoter of a tough catchillegal-immigrants law the president does not like and has called “misguided.” The Associated Press photo with this column tells it all.

Next day, she said she felt “threatened” by the president.

Correction: In my Jan. 25 column, I cited a Forbes article. It should have been FORTUNE.