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Obama's State of the Union: Meditations on an Emergency

3 years ago
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Emboldened with renewed public confidence, President Obama will walk into the Capitol building on Tuesday evening with the wind in his sails. Recent polling shows that the president's approval rating has jumped past 50 percent, with the public trusting in his ability to negotiate compromise with Republicans and, post-Tucson, that it is impressed with his ability to unite the country in a time of fracture.

Standing on the floor where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords walked only weeks ago, Obama will look out at a newly intermingled bipartisan audience: Many Democrats and Republicans will be seated together, rather than separated across an aisle. While with this new arrangement may result in fewer standing ovations, so too will it curb the stone-faced disapproval (or worse) on the other side of the room.


Giffords will cast a long shadow, and President Obama's speech will follow his call -- in the wake of her shooting -- "to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together." If his speech in Tucson was a convincing reminder of our shared national identity, Obama's State of the Union will likely match its tone as the president speaks to the broad theme of common purpose.

In a video statement to supporters over the weekend, the president said the country must "win the future," and indicated that he would propose a long-term vision for America's economy and competitiveness on the global stage. In this respect, events in recent weeks will again serve to underscore and support the president's oratory.

Following Chinese President Hu Jintao's high-profile visit to Washington last week, Obama will make the case for renewed investment in American education, research and infrastructure, citing Chinese advances in high-speed rail, clean technology and higher education. With the pomp and circumstance of last week's state dinner still lingering in the minds his public, Obama will press the point that America's fiercest competition lies not within her borders, but across an ocean.

"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist," according to an excerpt of the speech released by the White House.

"But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
"This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

Yet for all the stagecraft -- and statecraft -- that would seem to push forward Obama's vision for America's future, the president's remarks will also have to directly address a powerful Republican opposition. House GOP members passed a measure, only hours earlier, that would take a machete to government programs in a bid to slash $2.5 trillion from the federal deficit.

Though the vote is largely symbolic, the proposed casualties -- among them, education, transportation and medical research -- reflect a fundamental difference of opinion. On the one hand, those who believe that the country must immediately tackle the looming federal deficit, while on the other, those who would focus on strategic investment in American infrastructure, waiting for a stronger economic climate before addressing the nation's mounting debt.

To his critics -- seated scattershot in the chamber -- Obama will offer a five year freeze on non-security discretionary spending. But as to the larger question of "investment" versus the GOP's "cut and grow" strategy, he is likely to offer the rejoinder first heard in a speech he made in December. Speaking to Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C., he said, "The best antidote to a growing deficit is a growing economy. Cutting the deficit by cutting investments in areas like education, areas like innovation -- that's like trying to reduce the weight of an overloaded aircraft by removing its engine. It's not a good idea."

Obama's speech in North Carolina was little-noticed, however, and the State of the Union is, in every sense, prime time. Given that, we can expect that the presidential rhetoric will be significantly more soaring; less focused on the engineering of the economy, more intently pressing the case for American exceptionalism -- and inherently, the will to rise above partisan battles.

In the grandest sense, this particular moment affords Obama the opportunity to deliver a national homily on the character of the country, and his hopes for where he might take it. By way of guidance, then, perhaps it might be best to look to another passage from the same December speech, where the Obama proposed the following: "In 1957, the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. And that was a wake-up call." He continued, "Fifty years later, our generation's Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment."

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104 Comments

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brownjesusay

the rich deal in unfair measures with the least of Gods children. A.I.G, Wall Street Thugs,Bp Dumping Crude on our sea food in the Gulf, Truther's,Birther's, acting like some called for reparations. It's better than interest paid in full on those Jim crow laws baby. ran me hot so now I'm talking smack,but from the belly of the ship some of us got it like that,So anytime you want to flick your .ips,talking succession like you flipped your scrips,Whats that aroma see it smells like ....,Oh there talking about it!!!. Soulsister

February 05 2011 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sassogolf

Again, most of the comments are either to the left or to the right. The people of our country have to realize that both sides of the political machine are to blame. Most liberals slam Bush but ignore the fact that the Congress was in the control of the Democrats through much of his tenure. Many Conservatives ignore the excessive growth in government spending during the Republican controlled Administration. The media plays favorites and act more like a propaganda machine than a watchdog.

Bottom line is that we are a debtor nation like no other. Our government has grown fat and inefficient, the people of this country must begin to realize that the government cannot provide for everything for you. The government and media are playing on the self imposed polarization of the citizens they are supposed to serve. Our people are beginning to lack initiative and personal accountability. Since history tends to repeat itself, our country appears to be becoming another "empire" that has abandoned its core values and is dieing from within.

January 26 2011 at 6:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sassogolf's comment
walkerhds

"Most liberals slam Bush but ignore the fact that the Congress was in the control of the Democrats through much of his tenure."

say what? 2004 saw the Senate change hands to a split, with the 2 Independents tending to vote with the Demos, but the HoR was still Repub controlled. It wasn't until 2006 that the Demos controlled both Houses of Congress. Given that the Repubs had control of Congress from 1994, and then a Repub Pres. from 2000-2004, it's a little hard to say that the Demos were in control for most of his tenure. "most" would connotate a majority, and 2 years out of 8, is only 25%.

Try again.

January 28 2011 at 1:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hammerhead1326

i sure hope no one believes this guy will drift toward the middle. i cannot believe a word coming out of his mouth and if you listen carefully, comparing word and deed, you won't either. he'll say all the right things to get re-elected.then he'll have 4 more years to screw us good. lame duck anyone? actions speak louder than words. beware

January 26 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
cantchang

Americans are awaiting the truth and an apology for raising the national debt by spending 10 times the last the last 3 presidents combined, government growth is NOT economic growth all while on a tax-payer funded world tour and to do that while presenting a TRUE birth certificate and resignation... yes he gave the dumocrats every thing they wanted now the nation is suffering like california... tax and spend and SPEND AND SPEND

January 25 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cantchang's comment
kbright677

I want an apology from Bush for turning the trillion dollar surplus into a trillion dollar deficit. Maybe if he hadn't done that we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. I'll bet you weren't saying anything back then but you go Mr. President.

January 25 2011 at 11:37 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
ebony

It is truly interesting to see how soon people are able to forget yesterday. The yesterday I speak of is the 8 years of non- domestic interest in the American economy, the blind eye to the problem of education with the No Child Left Behind legislation which seemigly edged students through the system regardless of their competency, the Trillion dollars still mounting today from the Iraq and Afhgan wars, the Real Estate Meltdown and the blunders of wall street. How does the person who was inaugerated years past these pivitol issues which left our country in a deadlock, take the blame for the effects of another's mismanagment. It takes people to rocket out of a recession. During the New Deal Times, the people believed in the ideas of an administration who mismanaged the country and not until the people had no alternative, did the country quell the issues of separation of party, separation of race and community. The President is attempting to create a novel idea to address the mounts of problems created by the prior administration. For once, can Americans stand behind the historical ideals and principles that were to dictate the new land to the West. Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Blacks, Whites, Latinos and every other person, culture , race and grouping that makes this counrty what it is.. Understand that we are human first and continued bickering is not the premise of good politics nor problem resolution.

Current Republican

January 25 2011 at 8:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ebony's comment
mrstones4u

There are some historically differences from what you said:
1. Non-domestic interest? How about the Billions that had to get routed to security that before 9/11 wasn't needed? No other President had to channel the Billions there, to set up a more secure network of intelligence to protect America. If 9/11 happened during any President and that President took the costly but necessary steps to protect us, I would not pin the Blame on that President no matter what their political party was.
2. The Real Estate Meltdown, Bush's fault? Are you aware of going to the internet and searching for the recorded Congressional hearings of I believe 2004 where the Bush Administration tried warning that trouble was coming and gave suggestions to address it BEFORE it hit and th3e Democratic Congress blocked the attempts and played the Race card saying that doing so would prevent minorities from getting houses! Please watch the video of the Congressional hearing and you will see first hand one party calling the attention to the issue and then see which party on numerous times voted the attempts down or blocked the investigative attempt to address the Real Estate issue BEFORE it happened. The video is historic evidence of which party tried in 2004 to correct it and which party blocked all attempts, because they were in majority! Was this yesterday conveniently forgotten? How about the yesterday when the previous Fed Chairman was coerced by the President during the 1990's to put everyone in a home whether they could afford it or not, thereby keeping the economy artifically propped up. A historical fact! Another yesterday conveniently forgotten was , look up on a chart when the Stock market started turning down, the was a trendline broken and a sell signal given about 18 months before GW was in office.

January 26 2011 at 1:07 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
isaboutu

So what you are saying.Mr Stone.is that The right had no blame in what is wrong with our country?

January 27 2011 at 9:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jkint3245

Tea party will be in office next.

January 25 2011 at 8:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
DMD

Tara You need to stop being poor and project yourself being a Rich girl...Bush wasn't the Best but Obama is just a Good speech maker as he is know around the World for his Speeches not his Leadership and getting the Countries Business taken Care of. We still in Iraq and Afgangistan

January 25 2011 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
homesbyruss

Once a man lies to me then I never trust him to tell the truth. We have all heard about transparancy and his pledge to get rid of earmarks. There is a long list of lies that he has put forth that I won't take the time to list here. Most of the national news media are so in his pocket that they will never ask the tough questions. Do you think he is going to tell us that we are going to have to set in the back of the bus?

January 25 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
braindrain678

His speech probably won't be as haughty as last years, putting down the Supreme Court judges there. Still, it'll be interesting to see how much power he thinks he has compared to last year, considering he lost congress to the republicans. And, his approval rating has gone from 72% in April,'09, to 52% now. I read and see on Fox that Obama's trying to move to the middle, but the only way I'll believe that, is if he gets rid of his shadow government.

January 25 2011 at 7:54 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
hockeydc

The powerful opposition are The People. No more cronyism, no more special interest focus, no more trillion dollar deficits.

January 25 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

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