Even before Pres. Obama arrived in the Chamber, there was more than the usual buzz of anticipation. Rep. Gabby Giffords returned to the House after over a year’s absence while recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. Democrats and Republicans were stepping over themselves for a chance to personally welcome her back. She would cast her last vote as a representative on the next day before officially tendering her resignation. Seeing her walking and smiling and looking so beautiful set a warm tone for the evening.
Obama began and ended with his military successes (e.g., ending the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden) and gave grateful thanks to the servicemen and women. Those were crowd-pleasers on both sides, perhaps the only time the Republicans rose from their seats. The president made an analogy between the mutual trust needed to execute a successful military mission and the need for opposing factions in Congress to work together in order to do their legislative duties. Not everyone agreed. Obama still dreams of the united country envisioned in his first presidential campaign.
This year there were no memorable rhetorical flourishes or sound bites, with the possible exception of a very emphatic ”I intend to fight obstruction with action.” It was a practical speech. There were no grand plans as he proposed last year (e.g., his jobs program). What Obama offered instead was a “laundry list” of small actions that appealed to distinct sections of the population. Obama seemed to be channeling Pres. Clinton’s style SOTU in that respect.
The president proposed many small tax breaks intended to encourage job creation and help small businesses. He had promised tax reform, but adding more exemptions now to a tax code already riddled with exemptions hardly seems the way to go. Better to streamline and simplify the code— as if anything that major could pass! The chances for passage of any of Obama’s proposals are nil, especially in an election year. He also made proposals for tax increases. Obama fleshed out the Buffet rule, and honored Warren Buffet’s secretary by inviting her to sit with the First Lady. (Buffet had famously complained that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does himself.) Obama favors at least a 30 percent tax on incomes over $1 million. (The wealthiest pay about 15 percent now.)
Though many of Obama’s proposals were originally Republican ideas, no Republicans applauded them. House Speaker John Boehner remained stony-faced throughout practically the whole speech.
Some proposals were quirky, such as calling on states to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen. How would that be enforced?
Among the notable omissions was last year’s “Win the Future”slogan. Obama hardly touched on healthcare, perhaps missing a good opportunity to promote and explain his unpopular health plan to the public.
All in all, not one of Obama’s best, but probably the best he could do in this poisonous political environment.