There was a lot to like about the President’s State-of-the-Union Address. Obama hit the right topics with passion lacking in many of his previous speeches to Congress. And he displayed an edge not seen in his first term. The President spoke of bipartisanship but his tone was confrontational.
As expected, the majority of Obama’s remarks concerned jobs and the economy.
We gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.Half of his sixty-minute speech focused on this theme. Even when he was discussing sequestration, the President emphasized rebuilding the middle class:
Most Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.Ten minutes in, the President struck his first confrontational note:
the greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next… Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open and pay our bills on time and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another. Now most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs, that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.Obama concluded his economic remarks with an impassioned plea to raise the minimum wage.
We know our economy’s stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong… Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty -- and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.Nonetheless, the President reserved his most impassioned comments for global warming and gun control.
For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change… The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late. Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change… But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.Obama finished with an emotional pitch for gun control.
Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource, our children. It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence, but this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans -- Americans who believe in the Second Amendment -- have come together around commonsense reform… Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress… because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun… The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence, they deserve a simple vote.During the President’s first term, many Democrats were disappointed that he didn’t stand up to Republicans. Time after time he seemed to cave in to their demands. A few weeks into his second term, the Obama many of us expected in 2009 appears to finally have shown up. An assertive President prepared to get in the faces of his Republican opponents and force them to back down so he can move his agenda.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org