THE PUBLIC EYE: Obama Comes Out Fighting

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 31, 2014 - 03:44:00 PM

Many Democrats were nervous about President Obama’s 2014 State-of-the-Union Address. For the past three months – since the end of the government shutdown – the President made a series of mistakes and the odds of Democratic 2014 mid-term-election victories diminished. But Obama came out fighting and established seven themes that should help the Democratic cause. 

After declaring that the US is strong, the President said, “The question for everyone in this chamber… is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress.” “Let’s make this a year of action.” It set the tone; Obama promised to take action with or without Congress. 

At the end of his address, the President introduced Cory Remsburg, a terribly wounded Army Ranger. After reporting that Cory had said, “My recovery has not been easy… Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy,” Obama declared, “Men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.” 

Obama set the frame for his address: he would work for America’s downtrodden with or without Congress. 

America does not stand still, and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.
The President laid out seven action themes. 

“Build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” Rather than talk about inequality, Obama emphasized expanding opportunity. “The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.” “Let’s work together to close [tax] loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” 

(Rather than offer specific proposals to increase opportunity, the Republican response to the State-of-the-Union, delivered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers chose to blame Obama, “The President’s policies are making people’s lives harder.) 

“Climate Change is a fact.” Obama declared that his “all of the above” energy policy has moved America close to energy independence and substantially reduced America’s total carbon pollution. He added, “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t mention climate change or energy except to claim Republicans have a plan for “cheaper energy costs.”) 

“Fix our broken immigration system.” Obama noted, “Independent economist say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.” 

(Representative Rodgers responded, “We're working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”) 

“Women deserve equal pay for equal work.” The President observed, “Women make up half of our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” “This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main street, to give every women the opportunity she deserves.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t comment.) 

“Give America a Raise.” Obama said, “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” He said that he would “issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.” He called upon Congress to follow suit, noting, “Today the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here.” 

(Once again, Representative Rodgers didn’t discuss this subject.) 

We are fixing “a broken health care system.” The President vigorously defended the Affordable Care Act. He introduced a single mother who first got health insurance on January 1st and “On January 6th, she had emergency surgery.” Again, he threw down the gauntlet to Republicans: “If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently.” 

(Representative Rodgers responded, “We shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's.”) 

“America must move off a permanent war footing.” Less than a quarter of the President’s State-of-the-Union address was devoted to foreign policy. Obama noted that by the end of the year America will complete its Afghanistan mission although “a small force” could remain if the Afghan Government signs a security agreement. 

The President had strong words about Iran, defending the negotiations to reduce Iran’s nuclear program. “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.” “If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t discuss Iran or foreign policy, in general.) 

76 percent of those who viewed Obama’s speech gave it positive marks. The President was positive, action-oriented, and concrete. In contrast, Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers was negative, passive, and vague. Score one for Obama and the Democrats. It will be a long 10 months, but the 2014 mid-term election campaign is off to a good start. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at