He came. He saw. He did what was expected. President Barack Obama, one of the greatest orators to ever grace the White House, used his standard recipe of charisma, charm and vocal rhythm to renew his national agenda. I found his State of the Union address to be relatively inspiring, somewhat informative, and just vague enough to remind us that politicians can hardly deliver most things that they promise. At the same time, he did what I would have advised him to do: focus on “the Benjamins,” since Americans are mortified by the economy right now.
The president was a moderate, not the crazed liberal that the right wing has made him out to be. He talked about cutting the capital gains tax on small businesses and doing other things that you might typically hear from Republicans. He even discussed a government spending freeze: a move that would be horrible for the economy, but would give Rush Limbaugh one less thing to complain about.
The president pushed all the right buttons early in the speech: Creating jobs, reducing spending, attacking Wall Street and taking care of the middle class. Most political scientists will tell you that the state of a nation’s middle class serves as a critical indicator of political achievement, so the president went right for the heart of our country. Obama also showed that he hates banks as much as the rest of the nation, reiterating his intent to charge a massive tax on banks at the very beginning of the address.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ADDRESS
What was surprising was the candor and humor within the president’s speech. There were several moments of laid back laughter from the audience, hardly what one might expect during a usually tense State of the Union address. There were subtle jabs at those across the aisle who continue to fight with the president tooth and nail, namely the Republicans. But Obama even punched hard at conservative Democrats who have held out on the health care bill. I am not sure if this speech is going to make Obama’s olive branch any more reachable, but the truth is that the Republicans don’t yet appear to be interested in working with this president on much of anything.
It’s always interesting to watch the reactions of Republicans in the audience, stone faced and unwilling to budge, as they seemed to be sitting there thinking about ways to undermine the president and regain control of our government. After South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst at Obama’s Congressional address last year (“You lie!”), I almost hoped that the Secret Service would keep the president on one side of the room for his protection. But Obama’s jabs at the stubborn disposition of the Republicans are a reminder that Democrats haven’t been exactly accommodating to the Republican party either—it’s hard to imagine how this stalemate can end.
President Obama’s greatest problem right now is that most Americans like him more than they like his policies. The president has received unfavorable ratings on nearly every issue that matters to the American people, excluding education and the environment. The State of the Union address is an opportunity to correct this perception, but most of the promises made during this speech were vague and non-committal. At the same time, by shifting his focus onto any issue other than health care, the president might have a chance at calming the current political firestorm.
Obama did what was right on the issue of health care. He didn’t hide from the topic, but didn’t make it the ideological center of his address. He can’t back away from health care reform at this stage of the game, since so much has been done already. However, he must focus on what Americans care about: the size of their bank accounts. The fight on job creation is uphill for the president, since the US economy has not created one net new job in the last 10 years.
Toward the end of his speech, President Obama quickly blasted through other critical subjects, such as immigration and civil rights. His rush toward the end was likely due to the fact that these are not going to be his top priorities for 2010. He knows, like everyone else, that the economy is the primary political battlefield for the president, not health care reform. If President Obama boosts the economy and creates jobs, he is going to be just fine. But right now I can’t say the same for the Democratic party.