Barack Obama stood before the American people and from his high profile bully pulpit attempted to re-frame the national debate on the country’s direction ten months before the 2012 general election. Focusing on the middle class in his third State of the Union address, the President declared that the “defining issue of our time” is keeping the American promise alive.
Mr. Obama said, “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”
“America Built to Last”
With job creation and the economy top issues for anxious voters, the dominant theme of the President’s speech was an “America Built to Last.” He focused on strengthening the economy by eliminating business practices he blamed for touching off the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression characterized by the near collapse of the global financial system, the mortgage meltdown, and record job losses.
Mr. Obama proposed strengthening American manufacturing by penalizing companies that outsource work and rewarding those with tax breaks that keep jobs in the U.S. and train workers. The President placed responsibility squarely on the leaders of large corporations and in a contemporary twist to President John F. Kennedy’s "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country," issued a challenge to titans of industry: “Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.”
We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
The President pledged support for entrepreneurs--the innovators he said will re-build the economy--by calling for tax relief and elimination of regulations that stymie financing for small businesses, while encouraging government support of innovation in energy production--both oil and gas, as well as alternative fuels.
Additionally, Mr. Obama declared education as central to America’s economic future, proposing mandatory schooling through high school graduation; doubling work/study programs, demanding Congress act to prevent interest rates on student loans from spiking in July, and warning universities to keep costs down or face cuts to federal contributions.
“We should take on illegal immigration”
In a nod to Latino voters, disillusioned that the President broke his promise as a candidate to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first year yet saw record deportations, Mr. Obama called for an overhaul to the immigration system after claiming increased border security led to a decrease in illegal crossings. But if the politics of an election-year prevents reform, the President not only expressed support for the DREAM Act (proposed legislation that puts undocumented college students and military service members who came illegally as children to the U.S. on a path toward legalization), but challenged Congress to “send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”
“No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts”
The President argued that protecting the economy and the American people rests on “shared responsibility” with everyone playing by the same rules. He stated, “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.”
Mr. Obama demanded Congress pass payroll tax cut immediately to prevent a tax hike on 160 million Americans. In a veiled swipe at GOP nominee hopeful Mitt Romney who paid nearly 14% in taxes in 2010, the President called for reforming the tax code following the so-called Warren Buffett rule that wouldn’t allow a billionaire to pay as much as his secretary. Critics have leveled the charge that this rhetoric is fanning the divisive flames of class warfare against wealthy Americans.
If the State of the Union was the President’s first official pitch to the American people to re-elect him in November, he now hits the road, selling his message over the next three days in five battleground states--Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Colorado. The President will continuing driving home that his vision will “make” rather than “break” the middle class. But voters will decide if they “buy” it, thus making or breaking Mr. Obama’s presidency and bid for re-election.
Viviana Hurtado’s blog The Wise Latina Club has won "Best Politics Blogger" awards by LATISM and Blogs by Latinas. She is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino. You can follow her on twitter at: @vivianahurtado