WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious agenda in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, some calling it historic in its vision as others questioned whether he went too far.
Showing some of the vigor evident during his campaign, Obama capitalized on his recent electoral win to introduce a broad range of initiatives, including many that were new to Congress.
Among these were calls for high-quality preschools to be available for every American child, an increase in the minimum wage, a boost in manufacturing hubs around the country, and initiatives to make it easier to vote. The proposals drew standing ovations from supporters gathered for the joint sitting of Congress.
“It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many and not just the few, that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation,” he said.
President Obama confirmed that he would pursue gun control measures, climate change initiatives, and tax and immigration reforms.
He also stated that he would withdraw 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this time next year.
A Stand-Out Address
Dr. Kathleen Kendall, a specialist in political communication at the University of Maryland, says State of the Union (SOTU) addresses are traditionally dry—and often forgettable—but Obama’s delivery on Tuesday will go down in history.
“This one will stand out more than others,” she said.
Traditionally, the president updates Congress on what has been achieved during the previous year. Obama said 6 million new jobs have been added, more people are buying American cars, domestic oil production is up and U.S. companies are returning home to manufacture.
- High quality preschools for every American child
- Increase manufacturing hubs around the country
- Minimum wage increase from $7.50 to $9
- Voluntary standards for cyber security
- Protecting the right to vote
- Tax reform including closing loopholes
- Withdraw 34,000 troops from Afghanistan
- Entitlement reform—cuts to Medicare
- Immigration reform and stronger border security
- Climate change—adaptation, reduce emissions, boost renewables
- Infrastructure—roads, ports, and bridges
- Gun control measures
“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger,” he said.
For much of his address, however, he focused on action in boosting the economy, building up the middle class, and increasing jobs. He laid out a vision for the future that included not a bigger government but “a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
His administration would focus on making America “a magnet” for jobs and manufacturing, he said, and announced plans to have 15 manufacturing hubs across the country, tax incentives to encourage U.S. companies to manufacture in the United States, and a ‘Fix it First’ plan to repair America’s aging infrastructure including initiatives for the private sector to contribute.
“Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away,” he said.
Included among lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and the military in Congress on the night were civilians chosen for their relevance to the issues Obama raised.
Included were Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old North Miami woman, who cued for six hours to vote in the last election but never gave up; and police officer Brian Murphy, who was shot 12 times as he became the first person to reach those shot when a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. “That’s just the way we’re made,” Brian had said when asked why he did it.
Most moving were victims of gun crimes. Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the Tucson Arizona shooting, was in attendance, as were the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl from Chicago who was shot and killed in a park in Chicago, not far from President Obama’s home.
“They deserve a vote,” Obama repeated as he referred to the most recent shooting events.
Dr. Kendall said it was the emotional appeal at the end of Obama’s address that made the speech so memorable.
“Of all the things he said the section on gun control was the most vivid and emotional,” she said, noting that it was easier to remember things from the end of a speech.
Dr. Craig Smith, a former speechwriter for President Gerald Ford, was also impressed with Obama’s concluding and opening lines but thought things fell apart in the middle.
Now professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Long Beach, Smith said the body of the speech was unorganized, covering too many issues and promising too much.
“I think it was workmanlike, as it set out a very liberal agenda, but I don’t think it was memorable,” he said.
While Dr. Smith agreed with some of the President’s proposals, including those addressing climate change, manufacturing and research, the way they were presented diluted the impact.
“It becomes a menu that we can’t eat everything on it,” he said, suggesting that containing the speech to five or six initiatives would have been far more effective.
Like many Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R- Fl), who delivered a 15-minute reply to the president’s address, he wondered how the initiatives would be paid for even though Obama had stated that none of the initiatives raised in his SOTU address would raise the deficit.
“There were some wish list things in the speech I don’t think we can afford,” Smith said.
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