February 15, 2013
Make no mistake about it: President Barack Obama is not a wimp. This was a confident President talking like a man who has won his second majority vote and now intends it to be a mandate to achieve his vision of government. This was also a president doing what he does best: campaigning, talking directly to the American people.
Mr. Obama started with an olive branch by quoting John F. Kennedy. He told both Democrats and (mainly) Republicans that they must be partners for progress. He embraced his own Simpson-Bowles Commission on Medicare reform and he promised that none of his laundry list of proposals would raise the deficit. In fact, he reminded Congress and the people that his administration had already made progress on reducing the deficit by $2.5 trillion — half way to where economists have said must be done to allow the economy to grow. He called upon Congress to stop creating false emergencies and scaring investors.
But the President knows that he does best when he first talks to and comforts his own base: minorities, young people, women, liberals, gays, and supporters of science. So there was plenty in this speech to make those groups happy. His proposals made sense: a commission on voting rights, protection of military families gay and straight, gun control measures, equal pay for equal work, increased minimum wage, and immigration reform. And a confident President addressed a future of growth — 3D printing, scientific research, early childhood education, new energy technology.
However, this newly confident President has defined his second term very clearly as a big government legacy. This was the strongest defense of the "New Deal" since Lyndon B. Johnson. And his second term will be more in the tradition of Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt who defined the presidency as the "tribune" and "steward" of the people — a strong institution that could trump Congress if necessary. In that vein, Mr. Obama urged Congress to act on global warming or he would do it himself via executive orders.
There was a long list of proposals all involving the federal government as a problem-solver. He does have two majorities under his belt. This time the President intends to use them as leverage to move the country forward. There is no question that Republicans will oppose him — but it remains to be seen how much Mr. Obama can actually achieve, how much he has set the table to take credit by future presidents, and how much he set himself up for possible doom.
There is no question that in this State of the Union speech, the President talked from a position of strength.