A closer look a Obama’s second State of the Union

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President Obama’s second State of the Union address, delivered in the early hours of yesterday morning, has been widely praised as the President’s most centrist speech yet. It was delivered to congressmen also partaking in the bi-partisan spirit, with some sitting with ‘dates’ from the opposite party. Obama himself made a clear declaration of bi-partisan intent from the podium saying “what counts is not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.” The entire audience, wearing ribbons to commemorate the shooting in Tuscon, got to it’s feet.

The President started  his speech  by congratulating the new speaker, Republican John Boehner, before noting Gabrielle Giffords empty chair. He chose not to speak about gun control though, a wise decision, as such move could have been dismissed as playing politics with a tragedy. A less understandable omission to the speech though was climate change, despite an extensive section on renewable energy.

The address was built around the theme of ‘winning the future’, and Obama developed this around two primary strands – investment and inspiration. He may have praised the tax cuts that Congress passed, but he is clearly not going to shy away from spending money on big ticket projects in the future, declaring this generation needed their ‘Sputnick moment’.

Taking on the elephant in the room, Obama joked that the crowd had had disagreements about his highly contentious healthcare bill. He defended his policy, but showed a willingness to work to solve some of the problems that have developed. There was no contrition though, as he asked the 112th Congress to not ‘fight the battles of the last two years again, let’s fix what needs fixing, and move forward’.

This was an approach typical of the whole speech. Having irritated the Republicans by talking about healthcare, he spoke about deficit reduction in the next section. After declaring his pride at the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, he stated that Universities should allow Army recruiters onto their campuses.

Using the old classic of the American dream to develop his notion of ‘winning the future,’ he used the examples of VP Biden and Speaker Boehner sitting behind him, saying that only in America could people from their humble backgrounds reach such lofty positions. By using the similarly sure-fire crowd pleaser of American Exceptionalism, and citing challenges from China and India, he also induced a bit of a siege mentality amongst the collected politicians – in the next year it will be the US against the world, and all American’s are in it together.

As ever Obama delivered his speech well.  The oratory didn’t quite, in the words of Sam Seaborn, “blow the doors of the place” [it is editorial policy that all US politics articles on VN have a West Wing reference – Ed], but it did cement his position as a progressive, compromising leader. His second State of the Union showed that President Obama has clearly decided to plough straight through the middle of politics over the next two years,  trying to grab as many people fron either side as possible on the way.

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