My Thoughts On President Obama's SOTU Remarks

So, I meant to post my reaction to the State Of The Union address yesterday, but work responsibilities got in the way (don't you hate it when that happens?). It may be a day late, but it's definitely not a dollar short. 'Cause it's free, dummy.

Firstly, if you missed it, here is the transcript. You can watch the entire thing here.

Okay, the good news is: I didn't feel like the entire thing was one big campaign speech. Particularly at the beginning.

But, now that I've read the speech (as opposed to watching it) and am now writing about it, some of the remarks come across as more-than-a-bit campaign-y. But, in the moment on Tuesday evening, it didn't feel that way.

What I found to be the most interesting and compelling moments were in the first several minutes of the address. Particularly this bit:
Let’s remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.

In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.

It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag. In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.

Those are the facts. But so are these. In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like that never happens again.

The state of our Union is getting stronger. And we’ve come too far to turn back now. As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.

No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.
My emphasis.

As the President started in with the "Let's remember how we got here...", I must admit that I was concerned that he was going to re-hash the 'failed policies of President Bush' talking points that, in essence, won Obama the 2008 election. At first this bothered me because, as I've talked about before, Americans aren't going to buy that argument this time around.

But when the President continued, "I will work with anyone in this chamber...", I started to worry less. While he was still hinting at 'remember, I inherited this mess' language, it seemed that he was turning something of a corner with some talk of the future, and his willingness to get things done.

Also worth noting, Obama followed that conciliatory tone with a strong call to arms for Democrats. The line about intending 'to fight obstruction with action' was some of the most forceful rhetoric that I have heard from Obama-as-President.

One of my biggest criticisms of President Obama in the last three years is that he has lacked, well, balls. Oh sure he's gotten some ballsy things done (bin Laden, healthcare, et al), but it is only in the aftermath of these ballsy things that the President seems to misplace his metaphorical testicles.

Let me put it another way; heretofore, I haven't felt like the President brags about his successes enough. He hasn't used forceful language enough. You may not agree with him on a whole host of issues (see above), but you have to admit that he got sh*t done.

It appears that this campaign may be different. And it should be.

While the President is well known for his 'laid-back' persona, looking very comfortable on the stump, this election is not going to be based on 'hope and change' imagery. Voters this time around are going to be looking at the President's record over the last three-plus years. Barack Obama needs to stand up and fight for what he and his administration have done -- and what he plans to do in the next four years.

You may think me naive, but I was also impressed by the call for bipartisanship using our nation's military as an example:
At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, [the military of the United States] exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example. Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.
What I heard was, "You know what? Democrats and Republicans are too bitterly divided. We haven't gotten much done in Washington, D.C. because of our partisan gridlock. If we pattered our governance after the the example of teamwork and leadership that our military sets -- we would be in much better shape."

Now, Jason Kuznicki at The League thinks differently:
[T]o imagine that our economy and the rest of our society should be run just like the military is the very essence of fascism.
...and while I think that Jason has a point about the militarization of America, I'm not so sure that this is what Obama was referring to in his speech.

On the contrary, I interpreted the President's rhetoric as a plea to set aside our political and ideological differences and work together towards a common goal: getting our country working again. I don't think that the President is suggesting that all Americans need to 'fall in line' like the military does -- for, as Kuznicki points out, surely that would be fascism. I think that Obama was simply going for a 'teamwork' message here.

...and at the same time, he got to plug the successes of our nation's military members. What President politician would pass on an opportunity to do that?

James Joyner and I agree on that last point:
Like John Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” this is simultaneously uplifting and outrageous. It’s beautiful speechcraft and political theater; who could dare not applaud this and be seen as not supporting the troops?

All in all, save for the things that I've talked about, the speech was (sometimes eerily) similar to previous State Of The Union addresses. The RNC put out an extremely effective web ad that speaks to this:

Much of the speech was indeed standard boilerplate from an incumbent President up for re-election. But, as I mentioned above, I think that I sensed more of a fire in the President's belly.

We'll see just how strong that fire is in the coming months.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama gets a standing ovation as he makes his State of the Union address to a joint session of congress and the American people in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. UPI/Pat Benic