Unfortunately, I have been pretty out of it the last couple of days. Mrs. ROB has pneumonia and I caught whatever bug is ailing her. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal because I could take a day or two off from work and have no problems. However, being sick comes at the wrong time of the year because a new semester is starting and Obama’s State of the Union Address was last night. I love the State of the Union. I love presidential rhetoric. So for a geek like me last night was difficult.
That said I persevered and was able to stay up for at least Obama’s portion of the State of the Union. I missed the Republican response and the commentary of the pundits that follow (all of which I would have loved to see). So my quick reaction is going off of just some observations I made of the speech.
First, President Obama appeared more confident than ever before during the State of the Union. It seems he has finally embraced his own skin and was able to communicate that to Congress and the American people. You don’t have to agree with him, but as a president who has no more elections left he appeared ready to work, compromise a bit, but also be willing to stick to his own guns and not really care about political consequences.
Second, I thought the Obama’s focus on values was an interesting take on the SOTU. Typically, it is a laundry lists of programs that the president wants to accomplish in the coming year. President Clinton was a master at it. Obama’s appeal to greater values I think sets him up as rising above the fray of Washington’s petty politics and offers a nice bookend to his 2008 campaign, which I think is why a lot of people wanted to vote for him. No Drama Obama. Rise above the fray, change Washington.
Now truth is Obama cannot change Washington. No politician can, but his SOTU gives the impression that he is acting much more presidential for the final two years of his presidency. Whether that will translate to legislative cooperation is a whole other kettle of fish.
Third, I was surprised that Obama didn’t talk much more specifically about income inequality, which I think for many Democrats, is the signature issue of our time. The top keep getting richer and the bottom half run in place. I mean he did couch it in a much broader theme of “middle class economics” but I thought he might be a bit more specific with the issue of income inequality.
Fourth, I think that Obama’s discussion of foreign policy (which I enjoyed and is what I focus on mostly in the State of the Union) was his continued attempt to re-orientate American leadership. In other places, I have argued it meant a resetting of America’s role in the world. I don’t know if resetting is the proper term anymore. Obama is a hybrid between a liberal internationalist (e.g. using institutions and diplomacy to advance American efforts) and a realist (focusing on primarily national interests). Personally, I think it is more weighted to liberal internationalism. But it isn’t the same as during President Wilson’s time or FDR. It is much more of a reorientation, a resetting (maybe that is the proper term) American global reach for the new realities of international politics (e.g. a rising China and India, shifting toward the Pacific region, fighting threats that non state-based actors, climate change, Cuba).
Fifth, Obama’s discussion at the end where he was talking about how Congress could talk to each other, could argue with each other without getting personal, was and i am not sure why really moving. I am going to use part of that speech in my argumentation class to open up. I don’t know why, but it just seemed different to me.
Ultimately, I think Obama appeared tonight as his most presidential yet. His agenda is certainly left of center and doesn’t necessarily have much chance of passing (at least a good chunk of it…much of which i agree with). But his posture, language, and demeanor all gave me the impression of a president finally comfortable in his own skin, not worried about political maneuvering to win elections.
Perhaps, all presidents who are at this point in their presidency feel this way, but I liked what I saw and it made me only love what I do for a living even more.