Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was the same old Obama, delivering the same old message.
It was a rousing speech for those who agree with the president’s agenda, but offered little to those who did not vote for him in 2008 or 2012 or who may have voted for him, but who have lost faith in him and his ideas, as so many Americans have in the last six years.
His speech was filled with rhetoric – much of the same that we have heard over the last year. It felt like a litany of rehashed promises. No more, no less.
It was a mediocre speech to match a mediocre economy. And it is not surprising that over 63% of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track or that only 43% of Americans approve of the job he’s doing.
Obama’s attempts at bipartisanship amounted to small gestures. There was mention of working with Republicans on immigration reform, but no ideas as to how we are going to reconcile the fact that Democrats favor a path to citizenship and the Republicans are only interested in offering legal status to the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US today.
On health care, the president’s signature bill which was buried in the second half of his speech, Obama recognized that there were issues with the Affordable Care Act, but did not say that he would be working with his Republican colleagues to make changes that would alter what he sees as the core principles of his plan. In this way, the president shielded himself from having to make any substantive compromises or concessions.
What’s more, key issues for the Democrats like climate change and education were all featured, but none truly given their due.
I am all for universal pre-K, better skills training and for clean energy solutions but we need to hear from the president about how exactly he will get us to these goals.
Tuesday night’s speech paled in comparison to what we heard from Illinois Senator Barack Obama in 2004 at the DNC.
His passionate defense of a United States of America instead of a red or blue America is long gone. Instead, we have a president who is only gesturing to his Republican colleagues rather than reaching across the aisle in a meaningful way to create the United States of America he so beautifully described a decade ago.
President Obama did well to exploit the gender gap. His support of women’s initiatives has been stellar and he has shown dedication to working in a bipartisan manner on those issues.
But that’s essentially where it stops.
The president doubled down on his weak foreign policy approach to the Iranian and Syrian crises.
His vehement defense of a diplomatic solution in Iran, and refusal to even consider a bipartisan Congressional bill increasing sanctions on Iran, shows that the president is simply not aware of how weak we look internationally.
In light of our approach to these crises, it is not surprising that Iranian President Rouhani stood up at Davos and paid lip service to a nuclear deal that doesn’t even require the Iranians to stop enriching uranium.
Nor was it a surprise to hear that Russian President Putin has now decided that we don’t necessarily need regime change in Syria.
It follows that Secretary of State John Kerry’s defense of American foreign policy in Davos last week was off the mark, just as President Obama’s speech was on Tuesday night.
America is surely pulling back, and just when we shouldn’t be.
We needed to hear a passionate defense of our role in the world as the indispensible nation that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, President Obama missed a valuable opportunity to make American exceptionalism the cornerstone of his campaign. He missed that same opportunity again Tuesday night.
To be sure, many of the ideas Obama put forth in his State of the Union address are good ones.
I want to see America succeed and I know the president does as well. But he missed a valuable opportunity to show the country, and indeed the world, what America is really made of and what the real strength of our character is.
I agree with the president that income inequality is the largest challenge we face as a nation, but Obama offered no answer to why there are 14 million more Americans on food stamps today then there were five years ago.
It’s certainly hard to address these difficult questions, but we elected Obama to do just that. And on Tuesday night he didn’t convince me that he’s up to the challenge.