Obama's State of the Union Plays to His Base -- But Not Everything Was Worth Cheering
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In the final State of the Union message President Barack Obama will deliver this term, he came out swinging against the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress, and spoke to the growing gap between America's rich and poor.
With a delivery that often sounded like he was imploring America to believe in itself again, Obama gave an address that may not have been his most inspirational, but got the job done. He laid out a strong case for his programs and his adminstration's efforts to revive the economy, and made the GOP look small and petty at the expense of everyday people. And in a moving moment just before he ascended the podium, the president embraced Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who will resign her seat on Wednesday in order to focus on her recovery from the gunshot to the head she suffered at last year's rampage by Jared Loughner.
After opening his remarks with plaudits for the military -- and a reminder of his administration's killing of Osama bin Laden -- Obama launched into a speech that addressed concerns expressed by progressives and refuted claims made by Republicans.
"We've come too far to turn back now," Obama said. "I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."
Hearing the Base
The president, it seems, has heard the hew and cry from his base, coming out strong against the banks, and laying the economic devastation he inherited at the feet of his predecessor.
"In 2008, the house of cards collapsed..." Obama said. "Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people's money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn't have the authority to stop the bad behavior. It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag."
Following a shout-out to Richard Cordray, his recess-appointed Consumer Financial Protection Board chief, the president announced the creation of a new entity in the Justice Department, the Financial Crimes Unit, "to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people's investments."
In fact, because of the gridlock in Congress, Obama laid out several initiatives he could create within the executive branch; unfortunately, without congressional funding, the jobs program he asked for is unlikely to be among them. Neither is the DREAM Act, despite the president's call to revive the bill that would allow a path to citizenship for people born abroad but raised in the U.S. The president also called on Congress to "stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July."
He did, however, promise a bit of an end-run around Congress on the question of clean energy, through an executive branch initiative to be executed through the Navy on public lands.
Warren Buffett's Secretary in the House
Obama also spoke to the unfairness of the tax code, but coupled his criticism with concerns about the national debt. Among the guests who sat with First Lady Michelle Obama in her box was Debbie Bosanek, secretary to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, who has immortalized her for paying a much higher tax rate than he does.
"Right now, we're poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans," Obama said. "Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else -- like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we're serious about paying down our debt, we can't do both."