Here’s a run down of what I thought about Obama’s State Of The Union speech boiled down to 8 bite sized points for your convenience:
1. The man is probably the most gifted politician ever, and he made use of his phenomenal oratorical skills. About half way through the speech I stopped listening to details and was almost lulled into a trance (I had to go back over the text to see what he actually said). Whether this is good or bad in the long run remains to be seen, but Obama was serenely calm and Presidential. A + for style and delivery.
2. I liked the way he boxed the Republicans in by calling them out for opposing absolutely everything. He went through a long list of conservative things he has done (tax cuts, defense spending etc) and still none of them cheered. He lambasted them for supporting the status quo on healthcare and financial regulation, and made them out of touch with regular people. It was courtroom lawyering at its best, and it worked a treat.
3. I liked the fact that Obama came out forcefully in defense of the stimulus and attacked Republican economics. He pointed out that he inherited a giant deficit and that most of the economic problems we face are a direct result of Republican rule. Obama insinuated he would ask for another stimulus package, and given that the first one was nowhere near large enough, this will be a very good thing if he makes good on the pledge.
4. I still thought that his message on economics was confused. After spending a good deal of time bashing Republican economics, Obama spoke incessantly of tax cuts for everyone and spending freezes by the federal government. How he plans to combine another stimulus package with spending cuts and tax cuts is anyone’s guess, and it was another example of the White Houses’ schizophrenic economic policy.
5. Great rhetoric on stopping ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the military. The proof will be in the pudding, but it seemed like he was serious.
6. The relentless focus on jobs and the role government can play in fostering a good climate for job creation was excellent. It was a solid defense of liberalism and much needed given the utter failure of private markets to do anything constructive during the recession. Obama cleverly contrasted America with the rest of the world, stating that ‘India, China and Europe aren’t waiting to rebuild themselves’. He needs to convince the House and Senate that failing to act decisively will put the US at a massive disadvantage in the global economy, and if private enterprise can’t step up to the plate, then the government will have to.
7. I was deeply saddened by his commitment to ‘clean coal technology’. Even the term is an oxymoron, and as a policy, even stupider. Obama also spoke of offshore drilling – a direct concession to the loony Right. I’m not sure why he thought this would be a good idea, but it won’t go down well with environmentalists. However A+ for slamming climate change deniers (he basically laughed at them), and a B for committing to a low carbon economy (he didn’t lay out any specifics).
8. Although Obama basically said ‘I’m going to get health care done’, I was still left scratching my head as to how. He didn’t mention reconciliation, but I got the impression he would take that route if there were not other options left. I’m pretty confident his aggressive rhetoric means he won’t let Republicans hijack the process, but then actions speak louder than words. We will know for sure in the coming weeks.
Overall, I thought it was an excellent speech and a forceful reminder of why he captured the imagination of the nation in 2008. His poll numbers should bounce after this, and it will no doubt help him pass a good deal of his policy proposals. Obama still likes to triangulate, but there was enough progressive ideology laced into his speech to give hope to the Left that was about to jump ship and abandon him. His pandering to Republicans and centrists has cost him dearly in recent times, and it seems he has learned his lesson.
The Democrats still wield immense power in Washington, and all they need is Obama to show some leadership. And I think tonight, he showed it.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.