13 Thoughts on President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address

February 13th, 2013

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  1. The spirit was less confrontational than the inaugural address. The President repeatedly called for bipartisanship and compromise. He denounced partisanship and called for common purpose.
  2. One thing Republicans will likely object to: the President’s repeated call for the wealthiest Americans to do “their fair share’” and pay more in taxes and Medicare premiums. Republicans will call that class warfare and more tax hikes.
  3.  The President made a strong argument that economic growth is a higher priority than deficit reduction. That’s where he and Republicans part company. Republicans believe deficit reduction is a prerequisite for economic growth. Obama said that “reckless spending cuts” will inhibit growth. He insisted on a “balanced’” approach to deficit reduction, including both “revenue increases” (mostly through tax reform) and cautious spending cuts.
  4. He called the looming sequesters (across-the-board spending cuts) a “manufactured crisis.”‘ That is exactly what they are. The American public has no idea where this impending crisis is coming from and they do not see it as real. The President re-enforced that notion and warned that allowing the sequesters to go into effect would jeopardize the nation’s security, devastate our priorities and cost “hundreds of thousands of jobs.” Bottom line: he called the sequesters “a really bad idea.”
  5. President Obama argued that nothing he proposed “should increase our deficit by a single dime.” Several of the initiatives he proposed would be financed without tax revenues. The Energy Security Trust would come from “oil and gas revenues.” Private capital would pay for the Partnership to Rebuild America.” The non-partisan commission to improve voting procedures would cost very little tax money.
  6. The only real anti-poverty measure he talked about was raising the minimum wage and pegging it to inflation — which costs government nothing.
  7. He probably rattled a lot of college and university administrators when he said that federal aid to colleges would be based partly on “affordability and value.” College costs have been increasing much faster than inflation, and he wants to force colleges to hold down costs.
  8. On foreign policy, he touted two things:
    • His record of ending wars, not starting them; and
    • His shift from massive military intervention to targeted counter-terrorism strikes. He responded to criticism of drone strikes by promising to “engage with Congress” to ensure that counter-terrorism strikes would be legal and transparent.
  9. Two foreign policy issues received particular emphasis:
    • Cyber security, which he depicted as a “rapidly growing threat,”; and
    • Human rights, which is likely to be elevated to a top foreign policy priority by the New America coalition that elected him.
  10. His call for comprehensive immigration reform was loud and clear. That’s where he knows Republicans are on the defensive.
  11. He mentioned gay rights only in passing — for instance, at the beginning, when he said that you should be able to get ahead in this country no matter “who you love.” But it may be unprecedented for any President to mention gays in a State of the Union speech.
  12. The most emotional moment in the speech came when he discussed gun violence and called attention to the victims. But the President did not specifically call for Congress to pass new gun controls. He simply said ”They deserve a vote.” That was very clever. He was insisting that members of Congress go on record for or against background checks, tougher gun trafficking laws and bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, even if the measures fail (as many probably will). When legislators cast a vote against those things, they will become vulnerable to attack by their opponents as insensitive to gun violence. The President’s call got a rousing response from legislators, who chanted, “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
  13. Altogether, the State of the Union speech was not particularly bold or ambitious. It was realistic.