…the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth. ~President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union Address
Yesterday, I and other Americans, eschewed our normal Tuesday night activities – for me Netflixing and aimlessly surfing social media sites – to watch President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address.
Formally mandated in Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution as a periodic report to Congress regarding the state of the Union with recommendations of necessary measures, since the mid-20th century it has become an opportunity for presidents to share an agenda and connect with the American people.
Tonight’s address from President Barack Obama did not deviate from this. Through tonight’s speech, we were able to catch glimpses of the President’s way forward in a variety of policy areas:
- affordable healthcare
- counter-terrorism initiatives
- economic and financial security for Americans
- education reform
- engagement strategies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Arab-Israeli issues
- environmentally conscious energy policy
- global competitiveness and job creation
- global diplomatic engagement
- gun law reform
- immigration reform
- veteran healthcare
- voters’ rights reform
Did I miss anything?
While the points made during this speech will and should be examined for their merit as progressive solutions to complex problems, and while his points will be analyzed for its salience in comparison to narratives espoused in the Republican, Tea Party, and Rand Paul SOTU responses, what stood out to me was not any particular policy area that he spent too much or too little time on. Instead, what I found interesting were uniting themes throughout his address, and I really found myself focusing in on these narratives.
As the speech progressed, Obama did not miss opportunities to make clear that the government can do more to meet the needs and expectations of the American people. Obama relied on the imagery of the responsible, hardworking American looking to the government to “do right” by them. In particular, Obama cited the government shutdown in 2013 as a clear area where political differences took precedent over the needs of the American people. Obama framed several of his policy initiatives and recommendations as ideas that would honor the “trust” the American people placed in elected officials to do their jobs. After all, if the American people can be responsible and work hard to do what’s necessary, why can’t Congress or the President do the same?
The American Dream. The idea that if someone is given the opportunity to be great, they can be with the addition of hard work and responsibility. Obama used several examples to drive home this message, including his own ascent to the Presidency of the United States, and the example of Congressman John Boehner rising to Speaker of the House. “Opportunity” was used in the speech at least 12 times. Opportunity is the lifeblood of this country’s narrative, and its hard to imagine any pursuit of policy reform that does not highlight this as its cornerstone. People may have different ideas about what “access to opportunity” looks like; however, I think we can all agree that “opportunity for prosperity” is quintessentially American.
Technology and Innovation
Several of the policy areas Obama mentioned included several ideas about the ability of technology and innovation to help advance US interests. Whether Obama referenced innovation to increase American business competitiveness in the global economy or innovation in education pedagogy, a clear theme of 2014 is to think in new ways about the way the US government shapes its solutions to these policy questions.
By Any Means Necessary
While “by any means necessary” is a paraphrase, the sense I got by the end of this address was that Obama did not intend to wait on Congress to push legislation his way to address some of these policy areas. Instead, Obama highlighted, in several policy areas, his intent to exercise his executive authority to make progress on these issues through partnerships with philanthropists, private entities, businesses, and other partners. Unlike in 2013, where the general narrative had been focused more on the obstructionist tactics of Congress limiting Obama’s options, I didn’t notice many references to Congress impeding progress on policy’s that Americans need in tonight’s message, and it may be a conscious decision by Obama moving forward in 2014.
Ultimately, I think that the goal of tonight for President Obama was to convey these overarching messages as clearly as he communicated his way forward in several specific areas that Americans care about. After listening to him tonight, I’d say he successfully communicated his points and, while I don’t think the purpose of the speech tonight was to convince foes to become allies, I think he exhibited a poise and charm that will likely help restore some confidence in his ability to continue leading America forward in 2014.
What do you think?
Check Out The Links Below And Hit Me With Your Opinion!
Obama’s State of the Union Address (Transcript)
GOP’s Response to the State of the Union Address (Transcript)