Commentary

State of the Union advice

Marketplace Staff Jan 19, 2011
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Commentary

State of the Union advice

Marketplace Staff Jan 19, 2011
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama will be hosting a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao this evening. Once his guest is off to Chicago tomorrow, it’s fair to suppose the president will turn his attention to another piece of business: the State of the Union next week. Tuesday, to be specific.

The upcoming address has commentator David Frum thinking back to his days as a White House speechwriter and offering this pep talk.


David Frum: President Obama’s speechwriters face a nasty problem as they prepare for the State of the Union address.

On the one hand, of course they will want to express empathy for the many Americans struggling with extreme economic difficulty. The writers will understandably flinch from anything that sounds complacent or self-congratulatory.

On the other hand, the country is gripped by a bleak mood of anxiety and despair that threatens to become self-fulfilling. Sixty percent say we are on the wrong track. A plurality of Americans say they expect life to be worse in the next generation than the last. Barely one-third say they expect the United States to remain the world’s dominant economic power; almost half cede that top spot to China.

So this might be an appropriate moment for the President to remind Americans of the country’s continuing strengths.

The United States is the world’s biggest economy, three times bigger than China. Americans remain the richest people on Earth, except for tiny economies whose statistics are distorted by huge energy earnings or banking inflows like Qatar and Luxembourg.

Think we’re losing our technological edge? The United States files more patent applications than any country on Earth, twice as many as number two Japan, 10 times as many as South Korea, almost 20 times as many as China.

Think we no longer make things? The United States is the world’s third largest exporter. We import more than we export, but half that deficit is accounted for by energy — and our single largest source of energy is Canada. If you were to conceive of the North American economy as an integrated unit, our international dependence becomes much less ominous.

Troubles? Of course we have them. Strengths? We have many more. The State of the Union presents an occasion to summon those strengths to mind.


Ryssdal: David Frum is the editor of FrumForum. In a former life, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Back next Wednesday in his regular slot, Robert Reich. Your views, anytime.

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