In his speech at Georgetown today (video here), President Obama relied on a superficially appealing but misleading analogy to defend his plan to tackle health care, energy and education reform while the nation is still mired in recession. Obama analogized critics’ arguments that the nation can’t afford to do everything at once to a parent’s decision about whether their children should attend college – i.e., invest in the future – or work in a fast food restaurant – i.e., worry about paying the bills – during bad economic times.
Obama’s analogy fails because it assumes rather than demonstrating that energy, education and health care reform are time-sensitive initiatives. The college versus paying the bills decision is a relatively easy one – at least if your family is affluent – because going to college is time-sensitive. If you don’t go to college soon after graduating high school, chances are you’ll never go. The analogous argument – that we’ll probably never do health care, education, and energy reform if we don’t it now – is only valid if the reforms are such a bad idea that their passage depend on Obama’s honeymoon popularity and the distraction of many political battles at once. Somehow, I don’t think that is what Obama was arguing.
Another bit of rhetoric in today’s speech that caught my attention was Obama’s remark that, from now on, the nation’s best and brightest should favor careers that involves “making things” rather than careers in finance. I doubt Obama noticed the tension between that statement and his defense, minutes before, of the bank bailout, in which he emphasized that the banks and free-flowing credit are the lifeblood of the economy. I’m just thinking it might be a good idea to have many of the best and brightest attending to the nation’s lifeblood.