After enduring a seemingly endless barrage of negativism, hypocrisy and dishonesty from the Republican presidential candidates in their debates, it was refreshing to hear President Obama deliver a positive, optimistic and reasonable speech to the nation as his first term nears an end and his re-election campaign begins in earnest. In his State of the Union Address, the President reminded Americans of the many significant successes he has accomplished thus far, and he staked out the positions he will be taking in the upcoming months leading up the to election in November.
It was a brisk, sincere and upbeat delivery that focused on how the country is slowly emerging from a near economic collapse, achieving its objectives in the fight against terrorism and deciding on the course it must set for the future. The President was strong, clear-eyed and passionate in laying out his record and his vision for America.
The President outlined several themes to describe his approach to leading the nation that will no doubt be repeated throughout the campaign. He focused on our American values, reinforced by the World War II generation in winning the war and creating the decades of prosperity that followed. Mr. Obama emphasized economic equality and fairness, core American values that have been disappearing and that the Republicans have no interest in restoring. He vowed to oppose the policies that directly led to the economic crisis and to fight the obstructionism that Republicans have shamelessly used to try prevent a return to full prosperity in order to discredit the President and prevent his re-election.
President Obama noted the positive economic results that his administration has accomplished and that are being distorted or ignored by his conservative opposition. Millions of private sector jobs have been created, the auto industry has rebounded and new overseas markets are being created that will produce even more jobs at home. While the President had to endure intense criticism for the bank/auto company bailouts and the stimulus package, it is clear that these efforts have worked and have saved our economy. Yet according to Mitt Romney and the other Republicans, the President has no understanding of the economy and is to blame for the Great Recession that he inherited.
Regarding his foreign policy achievements, the President could have made even more of the killing of bin Laden on his watch, truly a historic moment given the trauma that the country was subjected to as a result of 9-11 and the failure of George Bush to bring bin Laden to justice. And he has had more foreign policy successes: ending the unnecessary and drawn-out war in Iraq, applying pressure to the Taliban and creating an exit strategy in Afghanistan, killing many other al-Qaeda terrorist leaders, playing his cards right in assisting the Libyan revolution and working to isolate Iran due to its pursuit of nuclear technology. The Obama Presidency will go down as a watershed in the war against terrorism, made even more notable since Republicans have traditionally accused the Democrats as being soft on defense and national security.
The President cited numerous ideas for programs to move the country further ahead and to prepare it for the future. He renewed his commitments:
• To increase taxes for the wealthiest while providing relief to the middle class,
• To support education and job training, including college financial assistance,
• To invest in our infrastructure, which is essential for a thriving economy,
• To encourage clean energy,
• To support small business and to provide mortgage relief to those at risk of foreclosure,
• To eliminate bureaucratic redundancy by combining some federal departments,
• To enact comprehensive immigration reform,
• To strongly defend his health care reform legislation.
While Mr. Obama continued to press for cooperation from Republicans in Congress, he stated that he would continue using his executive authority as necessary to make changes when Congressional cooperation is lacking.
The President spoke to the negative consequences of outsourcing jobs to foreign countries and the irrationality of giving tax breaks to companies who do. Mr. Obama used that as a launching point for a populist stance that is designed to capture the support of those on both sides of the political spectrum who are disgusted with the erosion of democracy in America; he advocated:
• Bringing offshore jobs back to America,
• Not increasing taxes for the middle and working classes,
• Consumer protection against unscrupulous business practices,
• Eliminating tax breaks for the wealthiest,
• Reducing federal red tape,
• Regulating Wall Street and creating a special unit to investigate mortgage fraud,
• Eliminating the Senate’s 60% majority filibuster rule needed to pass most bills and ending conflict of interest in Washington.
While the President continued his attempts to appeal to Independents and moderates, he also paid attention to his base by taking a strong position against Republican obstructionism and insisting on restoring equality and fairness in this country. With the war in Afghanistan starting to wind down, President Obama advocated using defense savings to help pay for domestic programs.
While some on the left were probably not happy to hear about his commitment to expanded oil drilling and his willingness to explore reforms to Medicare and Social Security, in general the President sharply contrasted his policies with those promoted by the Republican candidates, and he gave voters reason to believe that he will conduct an energetic campaign that takes the ethical high road and is based on reason, not on name-calling and untruths. Soon we’ll see if this strategy works and if Mr. Obama is able to convince those who supported him in 2008 that he has stayed true to that course and will continue to do so.
The next 9 ½ months will be interesting, to say the least. Clearly many in this country have tuned out the President’s message and will never support him because of who he is and what he stands for. The slanted and ugly campaign ads that are likely to emerge due to the super PACs and the lack of political financing restrictions will divide our country even more than it is. Let’s hope that come November, most Americans will support the incumbent, who is by far the one best suited to lead our country.
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