Barack Obama needed a great speech and he delivered. (Transcript of State of the Union Address here.) As noted by both myself and others live blogging or otherwise commenting live, the speech started out slow, initially with no applause. He finally received applause with, “It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.” He received further applause for expressing dislike for the bank bail-out, and more for speaking of getting the rest of the money back. Talk of cutting taxes was also received well.
Obama took advantage of the negative view of Wall Street and gained points for recognizing the importance of Main Street:
For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.
Obama countered the misinformation from the right which has tea-baggers who had their taxes cut by Obama protesting against imaginary tax increases:
We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. (Applause.) We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.
Obama announced a jobs bill, which I’m sure surprised nobody. He discussed his education policies along with tax credits for college education. He promoted high speed rail. He discussed the need for acting on climate change, along with the need for developing new energy sources even if one does not accept the scientific evidence. (I was happy to see him refer to the scientific evidence for climate change. I wish that he could also make a political issue out of those who do not accept the scientific evidence for evolution.)
The big question for the past week was whether, after getting so close, Obama would give up on health care because people in Massachusetts who already have a similar program saw no point in backing one nationally. Obama made it clear that he planned to move ahead:
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office -– the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress –- our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Reducing the deficit was just one reason for backing health care reform. Obama pointed out that the problem arose under George Bush, and the economic conditions he inherited made it necessary to spend more:
At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. (Applause.) By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door. (Laughter and applause.)
Now — just stating the facts. Now, if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis. And our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt. That, too, is a fact.
Obama called for more action to reduce the deficit:
Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.
We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.[…]
I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.
Obama also called for earmark reform and for reducing the influence of lobbyists. He addressed why Washington does not work:
But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We can’t wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of –I’m speaking to both parties now. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants shouldn’t be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.
Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, no matter how malicious, is just part of the game. But it’s precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it’s sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.
So, no, I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it’s clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern.
To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town — a supermajority — then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.
On foreign policy, Obama discussed his successes in fighting terrorism, and plans for getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq:
Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.
And in Afghanistan, we’re increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans — men and women alike. (Applause.) We’re joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am absolutely confident we will succeed.
As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August.
He also discussed eliminating “don”t ask, don’t tell.”
This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.
There were also several other items discussed and there is plenty of other commentary. The best one-liner came from Josh Marshall: “Nelson and Lieberman sitting together in axis of weasels.” The dumbest line from someone who was saying something favorable about Obama came from Chris Matthews: “I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”
The speech actually went on for over an hour, which is rare for State of the Union addresses. The only previous presidents to do this was Lyndon Johnson one time, and I believe Bill Clinton every time.
Obama made many arguments to counter the distortions from the Republicans and the misconceptions held by the Tea Party movement. Contrary to the conservative memes, he supports Main Street and small business, not Karl Marx. He has cut taxes and is determined to reduce the huge deficit he inherited after years of Republican fiscal irresponsibility. He advocates moderate plans to reform health care coverage, not a government take over of health care. This won’t change the mind of partisan Republicans and ignorant tea-baggers but it will help Obama retain the support of the independents who helped elect him.
Update: Obama did quite well when his statements were checked by the legitimate, non-partisan fact checkers. Incoming links show a sure sign of intellectual dishonesty–utilizing right wing partisan “fact checkers” who evaluated Obama’s statements based upon their biases as opposed to the facts.