This is written immediately after President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, and Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's official response, and with total avoidance of the usual post-speech spinning by TV talking heads, partisans, and focus-group moderators.
One thing to remember: In 2010, as in every other year, Americans will be focused mainly on two things. These are the state of the economy, and particularly the unemployment rate, and the state of our national security, involving both terrorism and other threats from abroad.
Wednesday night Obama, as he almost always does, delivered a good speech. Whether it will move his agenda forward remains to be seen.
Obama's approval ratings no doubt will rise, in the week ahead, as will ratings of his handling of major issues. Millions saw a well-delivered speech presented by a confident, well-prepared president. He presented himself as a tribune both of change and moderation. Yet, at other times, his message was of raw partisanship, causing Republicans in the chamber to project mostly frosty silence.
Viewers of such speeches make judgments about them not just on the basis of what was said but of what they saw. A few visual images told their own important stories.
- Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, weeping openly as he listened to Obama. Quite clearly, the representative was thinking of his father. It was the first State of the Union in Patrick's life at which his father had not been present.
- All nine Supreme Court justices sitting stunned and clearly taken aback as Obama attacked the recent 5-4 court decision on campaign-finance laws and pledged congressional action to "correct" the decision. He did not spell out how the correction might take place.
- Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sitting on their hands in silence as nearby Democratic Senators stood to applaud Obama's pledges to begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by July, 2011, and remove all combat troops from Iraq by August of this year. (The Joint Chiefs do not necessarily oppose the withdrawals but are worried to death about setting hard near-term deadlines.)
- Republican legislators sitting in stony silence as Obama blamed the largest part of federal budget deficits on Bush policies from 2001-8 and suggested Republicans were blocking progress with their partisanship. (Sen. John McCain could be seen and heard telling a seatmate that "he's trying to blame it all on Bush." Republican congressional leaders would tell you that they oppose health-care, cap-and-trade, and other administration initiatives because, in part, they were frozen out of involvement in them throughout 2009).
Here are policy highlights worth noting, in several areas.
Finance and economics
Obama took an obligatory swipe at big banks, to strong bipartisan applause, and reiterated his call for increased fees to be levied against them. He also made the dubious claim that his stimulus package had kept "2 million working who would otherwise have been unemployed." More importantly, though, he got in sync with the American people by asserting that "jobs are the No. 1 focus in 2010."
He said he would generate new spending on jobs, in part, by using $30 billion from the TARP fund (previously utilized for big-bank bailouts) for use by community banks to lend to small business. He also proposed eliminating the capital-gains tax for small business and new small-business tax credits. He proposed fresh infrastructure spending, including that for long-distance, high-speed rail, and tax rebates for homeowners making their homes more energy efficient. In a bow to labor demands, he promised to remove tax breaks for companies "shipping jobs overseas."
Without defining it, he called for "real reform" of the financial system and called on the Congress to act on it. He risked resistance from the liberal Democratic base by calling for construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants, new offshore drilling for gas and oil, and development of "clean coal" (an oxymoron) facilities.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!