In his State of the Union Address, President Obama sought to rally the nation as he mapped out his bold plan to “win the future.” Asserting that “the rules have changed,” he said America will achieve the next level of greatness through industrial innovation, improving the public education system, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and deficit reduction through shrinking government and a five-year spending freeze, among other measures.
The centerpiece of his speech before the jam-packed chamber focused on making American industry more competitive with nations such as China and India—those countries that have invested heavily in research and new technologies. He issued a challenge to America’s scientists and engineers to invent new clean energy technologies, calling for 80 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from sources like wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas by 2035, as well as ensure that the US is the first country to produce 1 million advanced technology vehicles on its roads.
“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon,” Obama said, recalling the incident that shocked the government into creating the space program. “After investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
“We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” he continued. “We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business”
But the President has immediate concerns. Although he recounted the economic and financial progress of a nation that was on the financial brink two years ago—the stock market’s strong performance, rising corporate earnings and sustained GDP growth—the administration wrestles with how to put millions to work and reducing the country’s 1.3 trillion budget deficit.
The speech was chock full of initiatives, offering programs that would be embraced by progressives such as ending tax breaks for wealthy Americans and policies favored by conservatives, such as a 12-month reorganization of government. In fact, Obama said he was open to improve healthcare reform by “mak[ing] care better or more affordable”—a measure the Republican-controlled House voted to repeal this week.
“It was a delicate balance of trying to tell some of the Democratic base some of the things that they wanted to hear, such as the elimination of the 2% of the richest Americans getting tax breaks, and at the same time he was also trying to send up an olive branch to the other side. It’s a delicate balance,” says Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Missouri). “He made the point that he wants to be the president of the entire country and he needs the Republicans’ help to do it.”
From his conservative vantage point, Allen West (R-Florida) says: “[President Obama] talked about some things we’d heard two years ago, such as our vetoing a bill with any earmarks. Starting right off we saw that he didn’t do that with the stimulus package. It was interesting to hear him sound like a conservative on some points and at other points he sounded like the same president of the last two years.”
Citing the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords, he also used the speech to urge Democrats and Republicans to seek common ground and put American concerns before partisan infighting. In fact, the Arizona incident and renewed focus on incivility of political discourse led to a number of Democrats and GOP legislators to “date,” sitting together instead of a splitting the chamber along partisan lines.
“This simple recognition won’t usher a new era of cooperation,” the President said. “What comes out of this moment will not be whether we can sit together tonight but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
–Additional reporting by Joyce Jones
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