The State of the Union and the State of Obama’s Presidency

Barack Obama closed his State of the Union address on Tuesday night by saying the state of the union is strong. That was after he spent an hour talking about the challenges that America is currently facing. And the list of challenges was long. How Obama has handled his appearances and public speeches following the midterm elections has been critical. After taking a brutal beating, the President was forced to retreat, and remerge with a new game plan, one that acknowledged his failures as president so far. He gave an incredibly uplifting and beautiful eulogy following the Tucson tragedy, which reminded many of why they elected him to be their president. On Tuesday, he put forward another inspiring and patriotic performance, which once again renewed the trust of many Americans.

Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be left, right, up or down on the political spectrum, nobody can deny that Obama’s strength is his words. He put them to good use in his State of the Union speech, which was reminiscent of a Reagan speech touting the wonderful characteristics of the country. But what Obama’s speech lacked was any concrete plans, and that is what so many people wanted to hear. How is Mr. Obama going to reduce the growing unemployment rate? How is Mr. Obama going to control the deficit? How is Mr. Obama going to deal with healthcare? The answers are as much a mystery before the speech, as they were after. To his credit, Obama made several requests of Congress, and pleaded for the passage of several important bills. But the majority of his text was reserved for boosting the spirit of the American people. He talked of the need to move forward together, to out innovate, out educate and out build the rest of the world. He talked of this generation’s Sputnik moment, and the need to break a new frontier (ala President Kennedy).

There is no doubt that the tone of this address was very different from years past. Obama received numerous standing ovations, roughly 45 in fact. This was largely due to the fact that for the first time (as a sign of national unity following the Tucson tragedy) Democrats and Republicans sat together, as opposed to on opposite sides. It was referred to as ‘date night’ as Democratic and Republican officials found themselves sitting next to some of the strangest people. As such, determining when to applaud was difficult. If you weren’t paying attention, and your neighbour began to clap, you did too. But what if your neighbour was of the opposite party and applauding something you don’t agree with? It made for some awkward moments. I highly doubt that this new seating arrangement will continue for future State of the Unions.

This was also the first SOTU for the new speaker John Boehner. The vice president and the speaker have the unenviable position of sitting directly behind the president during the speech. Therefore, every facial expression, every grimace, every single thing they do is broadcast on television. Boehner looked none too happy during the address, but then again can you expect him to be? He reluctantly applauded at many of Obama’s statements, and it was evident on quite a few occasions that he did not agree with the president. It is quite a contrast from Nancy Pelosi, who would jump and applaud at nearly every word Obama said.

The speech was a success for Obama. He needed it to be a homerun, and by most accounts it was. While it was painfully brief on specific plans, it was nothing short of the inspirational address many expected of Obama. With American confidence at an all time low, he could not afford to take any other approach. Obama reportedly had been working on the speech since November, correctly recognizing its significance. Just a few other specific notes to mention that Obama touched upon. He spoke extensively on education, and the desire to see students and teachers excel. He stated that troops will begin to come home in July. He is also ordering a massive restructuring of the federal government to make it more competent and efficient. He discussed American infrastructure and the need to improve transport. He said spending will be frozen for the next five years, with specific cuts to defence. And he also touched on healthcare, stating he will not compromise on the current plan.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2010 State of the Union

Just some random thoughts to close today’s post. The best part of a SOTU for me is the hear the words “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States”. It gives me chills every time, and is a powerful sentence. Another of my favourite activities is to watch the Supreme Court Justices. They show up every time, but can not in any way show any emotion while there. They can not agree or disagree, rather they must remain neutral. The best part is watching for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is always slumped over in the front row, looking like she is dead. I sure hope someone is keeping an eye on her, to make sure she is not sleeping… or dead. Lastly, I have talked to many people who ask if Obama memorizes his speeches. I don’t believe he does (it would be an impressive feat). There are teleprompters, that with the magic of today’s technology, are transparent from the audience’s point of view, but display text from the speaker’s point of view. Cool stuff!

Comment question: Did you watch the SOTU? What were your thoughts? Does the SOTU have any relevance today, or is it just an overblown tradition? What grade would you give Obama?

Obama’s full text from Tuesday’s speech
The official GOP response to the SOTU


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on January 27, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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