Following a difficult year beset with Republican obstructionism, Democratic infighting, and voter disappointment, President Barack Obama delivered his first ever State of the Union address with a message for everyone.
He vowed to not abandon ambitious plans for longer-term fixes to healthcare, energy, and education despite stinging setbacks to his agenda–and popularity.
“We have finished a difficult year,” Obama said. “We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment–to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.”
The address was an opportunity for Obama to retool his agenda and lay out his vision for the future. He sought to change the conversation from the shortcomings of his presidency to how he was taking more control. Much of the speech addressed the country’s economic woes — especially the high unemployment rate — which was a good move, said San Francisco State University political scientist Robert Smith.
Touting what he considers to be some of the successes of his first year in office, such as tax cuts for 95% of working families and for small businesses and first-time homebuyers, as well as jobs created or saved because of provisions in the Recovery Act, the president acknowledged that there are still too many Americans feeling anguish over the nation’s unemployment figures, worried about whether they’ll become the next statistic.
“That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that’s why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight,” Obama said to rapturous applause.
“I was pleased to hear him put jobs at the forefront because that’s what the American people are worried about, but he also let them know that he feels their pain and he wants to do something about it,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), following the president’s remarks. “Some people had gotten to the point where they were wondering about his sensitivity level, but he made it clear he will do something about it.”
In acknowledement of the power of small businesses as a key to an economic recovery, Obama proposed taking “$30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.” He also proposed a new small business tax credit, and a range of provisions that include tax incentives to spur investment; expanded access to capital and growth opportunities to create jobs; and increased support for entrepreneurship to foster innovation.
The speech did not win the support of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who accused the president of trying to sound “conservative” with his “rhetorical flair.”
“By all accounts, his explanations failed to answer the question on the mind of Americans: ‘When will I get a job?’” said Steele. “There is just no amount of spin and blame shifting that can hide the fact that tonight the president added more zeros to an already burdensome deficit with no explanation as to how he would pay for this ‘new foundation.’ As a good construction worker will tell you – foundations cost money.”