State of the Union: Obama Calls for Economic Growth, Action on Gun Violence

The heart of Obama's expansive speech was a stirring call to curb gun violence

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Charles Dharapak / POOL / REUTERS

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden stand to applaud as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2013.

Barack Obama was nearly done speaking Tuesday night when he reached the emotional heart of an otherwise bloodless speech. In a chamber packed with powerful people, many wearing green lapel ribbons to honor the fallen in Newtown, Obama made a stirring call to curb gun violence that zeroed in not on the dead children in Connecticut but on a 15-year-old girl from his own hometown. Hadiya Pendleton was murdered two weeks ago in a park a mile from the President’s house on the South Side of Chicago. A week before that, she sang at his Inauguration with her classmates. Now her parents sat in the House chamber, a symbol of a scourge that Obama wants to end. “They deserve a vote,” he said, and he repeated the refrain as he rattled off the names of communities shattered by mass shootings. “They deserve a simple vote.”

It was the rare raw moment on a night where the pageantry seemed ready to swallow the speech itself. This is how it goes, pundits warned: the State of the Union is an occasion for cable networks’ countdown clocks and lobbyists vying to win a mention for a cause and Congressmen who spend hours squatting in aisle seats for a few hard-won seconds in a camera frame with the leader of the free world. The speech is rarely memorable. It buckles under the weight of its own hype.

(MORE: State of the Union: No Obama Doctrine on Foreign Policy)

For more than 50 minutes, the pundits seemed wise. Obama offered an expansive vision for economic growth and middle-class opportunity. “It is our generation’s task,” he said, “to reignite the true engine of America’s growth — a rising, thriving middle class.” His watchword was jobs, “the North Star that guides our efforts.” The economic argument would have been familiar to any voter who tuned in to the President’s campaign rhetoric last year. There was no new grand theory, no Monroe Doctrine or war on poverty. The speech was a collection of boilerplate themes, gussied up by the pomp of the occasion.

Billed as a bookend to his second Inaugural Address, the speech called for policies that would boost the minimum wage to $9 per hour, establish universal preschool, combat climate change and increase federal investments in infrastructure and research and development. Obama implored Congress to act on these proposals and said he would take executive action if they didn’t. He made a measured case for comprehensive immigration that drew a standing ovation from Paul Ryan. And he name-checked Ryan’s old running mate twice, ostensibly in appeals to bipartisanship but also, perhaps, to remind his opponents that he was there and Mitt Romney wasn’t.

State of the Union speeches are often laundry lists, and this one was no exception. By the time Obama finished laying out his thoughts on the budget and manufacturing, entitlements and energy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had long since nodded off in the second row. The energy in the room had flagged since the moment Obama entered the House chamber, a little after 9 p.m., and slowly wound his way around the room, pausing in the front row to share an exploding fist-bump with Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican recuperating from a stroke. As Obama checked his boxes, Democrats thumbed their phones or paged through the printed copies of his nearly 6,400-word address. Steny Hoyer pored over the text with a yellow highlighter. Others whispered and fidgeted restlessly.

(MORE: State of the Union: A Feisty Obama, a Frosty GOP)

Republicans, meanwhile, slogged through the joyless ritual of the opposition party: they rose for Obama’s encomiums to bipartisanship (including a pledge to embrace “modest reforms” to Medicare) and stared, stone-faced, through his barbs. The State of the Union is a fine instrument for measuring the breadth of opposing members’ hostility. On one end were Republicans like Lamar Alexander or Ryan, who were quick to rise for an ovation when they felt it was merited. At the other was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who passed the night in a near permanent wince, hands clasped in his lap. The veneer of comity began to wear thin.

Then, in its closing minutes, the hour-long speech crescendoed with Obama’s call to curb gun violence — the subject of some of the strongest speeches of his presidency. More than two dozen people “whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” Obama said, were present in the House chamber. There was Congressman Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat who has been a paraplegic since being injured in an accidental shooting at 16. “It’s important to put a human face to the issue of gun violence and show the toll it’s taking on human lives,” Langevin says. Another one of those faces was Gabby Giffords, who clasped her hands and nodded as Obama ticked off the cities and towns riven by mass shootings.

(VIDEO: “They Deserve a Vote”)

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote,” the President said. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote,” Obama said, as Democrats leaped to their feet with cries of “Vote!” and “Amen!”

It was a peroration that showed off the power of the presidency. But those powers have limits. Obama can call for a vote, but he alone can’t determine what the bill contains. He can’t sign reforms that can’t pass a divided Congress. Already, the ambitious proposals that his firearms task force laid out have taken a back seat to the bitter fights looming over the budget and immigration reform. They are likely to be scaled back dramatically.

Without the support of Congress, the ambitious agenda Obama outlined is going nowhere. He finished with a call for lawmakers to be “the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.” As he left the rostrum, Democrats lingered and applauded; Republicans hurried toward the doors.

(VIDEO: The State of the Union Address in Three Minutes)

31 comments
Evo1
Evo1

All Obama's talk of "action on gun violence" is rank dishonesty. Not a single one of his proposed gun laws has as its intent the reduction of violence. According to his own Department of Justice, less than 1/2 of 1% of all homicides in the US are committed using either so-called "assault weapons" or 10+ rounds from "high-capacity" magazines. According to them, 98% of all gun crimes are committed with handguns and involve fewer than 3 rounds fired. Of the remaining 2%, over 3/4 are committed with shotguns or non-"assault weapon" rifles that aren't even capable of holding 10 rounds. So, even if his proposed laws were magically 100% effective in stopping the few deaths in which the banned items are currently used, the reduction in gun violence would be almost too small to measure, well below the level of the margin of error.

On the hand, that same DOJ has released a report showing that the majority of violent crime, especially gun crime, is committed by a relatively small group of repeat offenders. Over 80% of those who kill police officers have previous convictions, and a disgustingly large fraction, 28%, of all violent felons have 5 OR MORE previous convictions at the time of their most recent arrest. Think about that - more than 4 out of 5 cop killers have already been convicted of previous crimes (usually multiple violent felonies) and are still walking free, and almost 1/3 of violent felons have been CONVICTED 5 or more times, and yet are still released back into society to rape, rob and kill again (accounting for the majority of gun crime).

If Obama really cared at all about gun violence rather than attacking legal private gun ownership, he'd be pushing for a 2-strikes law for violent felons, an easy and vastly cheaper solution, since only 18% of felony convictions are for violent crimes. That alone, according to his own best data, would reduce gun crime by over 50%. Instead he's pushing as hard as he can to ban only the types of firearms that his own top people say are the LEAST used of in any form of gun crime (which means that they are the most responsibly owned), the banning of which his own best data show will have no effect on gun violence whatsoever.

Black_rifle
Black_rifle

Are we becoming a stratified society. The shooting in Detroit scarcely was mentioned in the news. Could it be because we expect that in a big city with gangs? The coach was escorting two girls from school when they were held up. Luckily, the coach was also a police reserve officer and saved innocent girls from bad guys. This story has kids, guns and schools. Innocent girls were spared by being escorted by an armed coach. What is wrong?.....

http://godfatherpolitics.com/9423/robbery-victims-shooting-attackers-called-alarming-trend/

Remember our veterans.

All gave some; some gave all.

Rest in peace my brothers.

"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." -- Mohandas Ghandi, An Autobiography, Part V, Chapter XXVII, page 446.

"The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing." - Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1693), French economist and Minister of Finance under King Louis XIV

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference they deserve a place of honor with all that is good.” -- George Washington

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” -- Alexander Hamilton

"The Constitution shall never be construed….to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms." --- Samuel Adams

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." -- Thomas Jefferson

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"The speech was a collection of boilerplate themes, gussied up by the pomp of the occasion."

Spoken like someonewith a good-paying job. Deservedly or not.

 

notsacredh
notsacredh

"Republicans, meanwhile, slogged through the joyless ritual of the opposition party: they rose for Obama’s encomiums to bipartisanship (including a pledge to embrace “modest reforms” to Medicare) and stared, stone-faced, through his barbs."

A photo of Ted Nugent or Boehner looking forlorn would make a great "1000 Words".

Nationwidevotes
Nationwidevotes

Did you agree with Obama's 2013 State of the Union Address? Vote at www.nationwidevotes.com 

fitty_three
fitty_three

I noticed there were more than a few times GOPers felt they had to clap...

Crack
Crack

It Sure Feels Like A Recession - While stocks suggest all is well, one glance at the following chart of US, Europe, and Asia (ex-Japan) EBITDA tells a very different story - http://www.miguelangeldiez.com/mercados

MrObvious
MrObvious

We all know that it is the middle class in all modern western democratic countries that are the true engine behind their economic strength. But in this country we have a party that still believe that if you only concentrate enough power and wealth in few hands it'll lead to an explosion of jobs.

That's not true and it defies all historic knowledge. But you can expect a continued orgasmic belief in this.

As seen below.

billorights
billorights

I watched, in horror, as Mr. Bush led us down the false narrative of government expansion, in the interest of freedom, liberty and national security.

How is Mr. Obama's narrative any different?

A few points:

1) Increased government spending is not an 'investment'

2) Increasing spending on higher education does NOT create jobs when the problem is not a lack of skilled labor, the problem is that millions of skilled laborers cannot find jobs or have left the workforce altogether. Seen REAL unemployment lately?

3) Much like the 'need' we had for the Patriot Act, as it was pushed upon us, the gun control meme is flawed at its core. For example, so-called 'assault' rifles are typically involved in 10-25 murders in the U.S., nationally. Yet, we are led to believe that banning them will significantly reduce gun crime.

What's terrifying about Obama's presidency, however, is the limitless complicity of his ally, the mainstream media. I have never, in my life, seen the media work so hard to help deflect, obfuscate and ignore in the President's favor...not since Pravda was the U.S.S.R.'s mouthpiece, anyway.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Alex. Many great speeches just have one awesome moment, and that's good enough. "Ask not what your country can do for you", "I have a dream" (which was ad-libbed! Dr. King's original theme was a "blank check" analogy), etc. This speech doesn't rank up there with those, but the gun vote request is appropriate for this sensitive issue. Yes, you're right to criticize  Congress when, oops, I mean if legislation fails or gets watered down. But let's call out the upcoming guilty parties: the Republicans. The D's won't stonewall gun safety bills (during health care battles, some Blue Dogs fought off efforts to create a public option, but don't expect that to happen here). Even a majority of NRA members (NOT officials) support some safety measures.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

And speaking of over-employed hacks, "boilerplate" was Mitch McConnell's exact characterization of the President's speech. What's "boilerplate" about proposing a livable minimum wage (that's probably a third of what you're paid for your insightful, original "analysis")? 

Tero
Tero

@reallife 

Thanks for that clip because, like most people, I changed the channel when this moron appeared on my screen. 

You lost the bet Rod, have some dignity dude.

RaviPG
RaviPG

@MrObvious The republican thinking defies logic as well. The very rich and large corporations together have trillions of dollars sitting idle on the sidelines at the present time, but they are not creating jobs. Jobs will be created when the middle class is rebuilt and enjoys good incomes. The Republicans cannot seem to understand this simple logic. What a tragedy!

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

Yes, that party would be the democrats and the republicans. By micromanaging the economy you end up with mountains of regulations that keep people from starting businesses. The big businesses have all the lawyers they need to navigate through these regulations. Any notion of building a middle class without deregulating the economy is obvious deceit.

On the other hand, the republicans keep wanting, like you said, to just give more money to the big guys through subsidies and tax cuts. Both parties miss the real problem: inflation by the interventionist central banks that hurt the little guy most and overregulation that suffocates small business.

RaviPG
RaviPG

@billorightsLet me respond.

1. By any definition, building roads and bridges and other national infrastructure is an investment since they promote and facilitate trade and commerce within the country. Only the governments can make these investments. Lets not forget that these investments mean creation of tens of thousands of new jobs in the private sector since all infrastructure projects are contracted out to the private sector.

2. Even today, there is an acute shortage of workers with right skills. With the expansion of knowledge economy the nature of skills required has changed. The old skills are no longer in demand. Reducing investments in education is absolutely the wrong approach.

3. deconstructiva has already addressed this issue to most people's satisfaction. How people can turn a blind eye to real facts of the effect of gun control in other western countries has to be beyond anyone's comprehension. US has 300 Millions guns, one for each American. Yes, you may be one of those guys who believe that in order to reduce the number of gun related homicides Americans need even more guns. I would like to know how many guns do you think an average American should own to adequately protect himself/herself from the tyranny of you may wish to tell us of whom??



Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/02/13/state-of-the-union-obama-calls-for-economic-growth-action-on-gun-violence/#ixzz2KnoSJA3q

samandbuddy
samandbuddy

@billorights Throw in Pravda.....throw in Communist....Throw in Romney loving the Chinese Communist Factories where he and his "Creators sent our technology and factories".....as for Patriot Act...Look to Cheney, Rumsfield, and Wolfowitz the leaders of the Iraq fiasco...You chest thumping chicken hawk Neo Con stooge.   You clowns made Iran supreme in the mid east and let the Taliban run amuk in Afghanistan.  As for "gun" control....the fruits of your stoogery are shown daily with the kind of firepower you insist every child and nut case needs...So stop the snow job....Let the Koch Bros and APIAC rub your for sale bottoms.

romerjt
romerjt

@billorights You're right, in that the problem with assault weapons is not the number of killed of the total.  The weapons ought to be taboo, that is a violation of morality so reprehensible as to be outlawed . .   like incest, or as some people feel abortion.  The object that enables a person to slaughter dozens of people in minutes does not belong among us and if the vision of 20 6yr olds being killed that way doesn't mare you realize it you are morally weak.  If I could I'd lock everyone of you in a room with the crime photos of the dead children until you cried your eyes out.   

Arimathean
Arimathean

@billorights Also, #1 is nonsense.  Some spending is wasteful, but much spending isn't.  I like public roads, for example.  I'm big on having an equipped military, too.  

Arimathean
Arimathean

@billorights In an era where Fox News (the most widely watched news) no longer even relies on truth to try and call the President everything from a socialist to a Kenyan Muslim, you have to have a lot of nerve or a monumental deal of ignorance to say that the "mainstream media" is covering for the President or trying to paint things even remotely in his favor.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@deconstructiva You're correct, decon. Time is of the essence. President Obama has to keep his eye on the...shot clock.

(rimshot)

.

...too soon?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@JonathanMartin 

I find this surprising since other 'regulated' countries have broad functional and economically strong middle class. Sure - there's good and bad regulation. But when you look at what grew the middle class and how it has stagnated it's not regulation.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@JonathanMartin 

First. I didn't mention Scandinavia per say. I was more thinking Canada and Germany as examples. But the Scandinavian countries are good examples. 

BTW, where do you get this 'Socialist' nonsense from? Arguing for a strong middle class is not a 'socialistic' argument. It's an argument for broaden the base that leads to greater prosperity. Not just for the middle class but also to a lot more rich people. Seriously.

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

First of all, no country in history has ever generated as much wealth and as strong a middle class as america in the 19th century. That is a fact.

Secondly: the scandinavian countries you are referring too are not as socialist as you like to think. They would be in the crapper with the rest of Europe right now if they hadn't liberalised in the 90s. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21570840-nordic-countries-are-reinventing-their-model-capitalism-says-adrian

More importantly, no european country has a central bank prints half as much as the fed, especially since the 90s under Greenspan. The fed inflationist policies have caused the great destruction of the middle class of the 21st century. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324445904578286252393164598.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop