President Obama's first State of the Union (SOTU) address on January 27 brought the focus back to the domestic front without neglecting to discuss America's international engagements. In what at times sounded like a recap of his campaign speeches, Obama hit on a number of agenda priorities, like:
- Focus on job creation and economic growth, especially by mass funding green energy/new technologies and infrastructure improvements
- Recognize health care reform as the key to reducing the deficit and providing a basic right to all America's people
- Eliminate lobbyist influence on lawmaking while promoting bipartisanship and plain-dealing in Washington politics
- Vigorously pursue sweeping non-proliferation goals; and
- Pursue systematic engagement as core tenet of US diplomacy in order to build new alliances, to marginalize "rogue states," and to act multilaterally on any number of issues.
The SOTU raised more than a few reflections:
- Will his speech ease America's anger over the coddling of bankers at the expense of advancement on Main Street?
- Was Obama's nuts-and-bolts explanation of health care reform enough to reverse growing skepticism? Or has the opposition beaten the White House to the punch by taking control of the debate and effectively driving the public perception of what reform would mean/look like?
- Will Obama's cost-reduction proposal convince skeptical voters (especially undecideds in the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections) that Obama is fiscally-responsible even though he leads a big-spending presidency?
- Perhaps taking the advice of a recent column by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Obama went on the offensive several times, reminding America that he inherited a mess (economic, diplomatic, etc.) and did not hesitate to blame Bush.
- Obama did not define exactly who are "the terrorists who threaten our nation," and where exactly the US is going as it "take[s] the fight to al Qaeda." In some sense, the Obama rhetoric on these questions has not evolved beyond Bush-era vagueness and ambiguity.
- Obama showed unequivocal clarity on the dynamics of US withdrawal from Iraq while sticking to the broadest lines regarding its Afghanistan strategy
- Self-deprecating at times, more optimistic during others, Obama's first SOTU was anything but triumphant in tone. Focusing on the hard work and defining values of the American people, Obama's most successful pleas were the rhetorical leans on government to better honor its people's long-term interests.
- Overall, the SOTU reinforced the notion that Obama's first year was heavy on new starts and light on measurable results, all while laying out a consistent message for the president's agenda during the coming year(s).
- Amy Greene