Obama Outlines Modest Plans in State of the Union Before Country Turns the Page

Audacity of a more limited scope

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Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014, as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen.

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday marked an end to one phase of his presidency and the beginning of another.

Gone is the gifted orator who campaigned on change. In his place is a second-term president who has grown acutely aware of the limits of his power. Facing a chamber filled with dignitaries and blessed with a broadcast audience numbering in the tens of millions, Obama’s central theme on Tuesday night was continuity—and a promise of prosperity just around the corner. Even after a miserable 2013 that saw his legislative agenda stymied and his approval ratings plummet to historic lows, Obama chose not to chart a new path. Instead, he sketched plans to clear his to-do list before an already listless presidency slouches into lame-duck status.

“I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama said. “After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth. The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress.”

The speech was littered with well-worn policies and economic themes on which Obama has relied time and again. He offered “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” But virtually all of them, from manufacturing initiatives to wider broadband access to a higher minimum wage, were ideas Obama has plugged before.

“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better,” Obama said. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

The focus on economic inequality and upward mobility echoes the strain of populism now pulsating through the Democratic Party. But for Obama, these are reheated themes from his fiery 2011 address in Osowatomie, Kan., and before that, the 2005 commencement address at Knox College that laid the groundwork for his first campaign.

Even senior administration officials conceded Obama mustered few fresh ideas. The president touted a new “starter” savings account to help citizens stow money for retirement, which he pledged to create by executive action. He asked Congress to pass an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program that provides an average of $800 in savings to some 15 million families. These may be sensible steps, but as far as audacity goes, they are not exactly on par with slowing the rise of the oceans.

But Obama didn’t pass up an opportunity to take something of a victory lap for what he sees as his biggest accomplishments: “The lowest unemployment rate in over five years,” he said, ticking them off. “A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world—the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits—cut by more than half.  And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.”

On the charged issue of climate change, Obama called for new fuel efficiency standards for trucks—but didn’t mention the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. He urged the two parties to join forces to overhaul flawed immigration laws, but declined to stake out specifics ahead of House Republicans’ imminent policy announcement. He will take action to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for employees working on new federal contracts, but not existing ones. He steered away from hot-button topics like gun control.

Even at its boldest moment, it was a speech of half-measures. Obama drew Republican fire by pledging to sidestep Congress when necessary, but the executive actions he announced were mild ones. His administration will continue to press CEOs to hire the long-term unemployed, and is reviewing ways to improve federal job training programs.

On foreign policy too, Obama called for staying the course. With the war in Afghanistan in its 13th year, the president reiterated that American troops could remain on the ground past the end of the year if the U.S. hammers out a security agreement with the Afghan government. On Iran, Obama pledged to veto any new sanctions that would undermine his administration’s diplomatic efforts to halt that country’s nuclear program.

The challenge for Obama’s second term has always been his first. A quick burst of dramatic legislative accomplishments, ushered through during a brief phase of one-party Democratic rule in Washington, gave way after 2010 to an obstructionist House controlled by an opposition party bent on thwarting him at every turn. The last four years have been focused on the long slog of implementing the achievements from his first two. And even that process has had its bumps, as with the uneven rollout of the health care reform law. With Republicans continuing to wield Obamacare as their primary political weapon ahead of the midterm elections, Obama reiterated that he’s not going back.

“I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law,” he said. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in re-fighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice—tell America what you’d do differently.  Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”

As Washington turns toward the 2014 campaign, and beyond that to the race for his successor, Obama has pledged to carry out the rest of his agenda armed with “his pen and his phone.” These are modest tools for the leader of the free world. But Obama has a knack for grasping the limits of his powers. “At the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story.” Obama said in a recent interview with the New Yorker. “We just try to get our paragraph right.”

His challenge now, as Tuesday night’s address showed, is to finish it before the country turns the page.

46 comments
Michael_Hense
Michael_Hense

last night i felt that i was listening to a man who was looking through a pair of rose colored glasses... what America was he referring to... certainly not the America that i'm experiencing lately... and this term "economic inequality"... just what exactly are we talking about here... 


i remember listening to the republicans a few years back... thinking that evil was defined in their subtle divisiveness... last night i saw the new evil... and this time it wasn't the politician that took center stage... it was us, the American public... gullible, fearful, confused... 

we who stood by and took in all that rhetorical irrelevance in as if it was of some value to us, we are the true evil... evil because we sit there and say nothing and do nothing... we say nothing, while our homes are foreclosed upon, while our savings are eroded, and while our rights are trampled upon, in the most egregious and apparent ways possible, as to make it impossible that it is not visible, even to a man wearing rose colored glasses...

what happened to the guy i voted for in 2008... what did you people do with him...

A/S
A/S

@mantisdragon91 

They are both on the same team. If you think there are any discernable differences between all of the members of "Club Fed" after the lobbyists get a hold of them, you are lying to yourself. "One of the key reasons why [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are] bankrupt today, and why the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in supporting them, is because of the edicts pushed through by Mr. Cuomo," said Bove, of Rochdale Securities, in a live interview." Yes the precious democrats had no bloody hands from the crash of 2008 or any help in having globalization and loose trade agreements that helped in watering down middle class income structure like NAFTA.....Wake up. The truth is the whole truth and not just some of the truth. The GOP has blood on their hands as well. Face it, we are living through Bush's fourth term.


mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

I'm still curious what the alternate vision is that the GOP offers? Go back to the policies that crashed our economy in the first place? Invade a couple more countries with no idea of what to do once we get there? Another tax cut for the people who already own an overwhelming majority of the gains from the last 30 years?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

From soaring rhetoric, grandiose plans heal the planet and calm the waters BS it is gratifying to see the man who did his utmost in destroying this country reduced to granular, as one journalist puts it. But also unfortunately for the country the damage will be so hard to heal.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

During Obama's presidency the USA has not expanded its international legal obligations in the humanitarian field and still participates only in three out of nine core human rights treaties. The Americans have not so far ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (only Somalia has not also acceded to it). The main outstanding issue is an abhorrent Guantanamo prison. President B. Obama sanctioned indefinite and extrajudicial detention and the resumption of military tribunals.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

US image waning

A global survey was conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup at the end of 2013. Citizens were asked: «Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?» The US has been voted as the most significant threat to world peace across 68 different countries. Anti-American sentiment was not only recorded in antagonistic countries, but also in many allied NATO partners like Turkey and Greece.

 The US topped the list, with 24 percent of people believing America to be the biggest danger to peace. The survey showed that even Americans regard their country as a potential threat with 13 percent of them voting the US could disrupt global status quo.

 In general 2013 saw a drop in approval ratings for the Obama Administration. A poll conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that 50 percent of those asked thought that the political system in the US needed a «complete overhaul». In addition, 70 percent of Americans believe the government lacks the ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.

d_webber
d_webber

" his pen and his phone.” ?   Sounds like he is threatening  a  coup d'etat and he could getaway with it because the Republican party is beyond retarded.

DissabledResources
DissabledResources

You people are so freaking gullible - that speech was about taking our power away and giving it to our government. In my opinion we simply need to stop outsourcing so we actually have jobs to be had and stop giving out unemployment to people that have been on it for more than 6 months!

LaylaGodey
LaylaGodey

I didn't watch it but from what I've been reading, it sounds like it was pretty much the same as previous speeches-his speeches tend to All sound pretty much the same... I am concerned, though, with a president who seems to be openly talking about disregarding the authority of Congress. Congress legislates, the President executes that legislation-Obama appears to be trying to grab authority he doesn't have.

john_rambo
john_rambo

The most divisive, partisan , lying President in U.S. history.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Usually SOTU is about achievements. And plans for the rest of the term. So what will Obama present as his accomplishment ? Nada. His plans ? How can he present his plans if the people do not trust him anymore. So what does he do ? Threaten to issue more Executive Orders. You do not have to be anti Obama to know it is a sign of incompetence. A President who has no idea how to do his job and no idea how to get along with others. Just like a Community Organizer. It is them against us.

reallife
reallife

@Michael_Hense  "what happened to the guy i voted for in 2008... what did you people do with him..."


It's the same snake oil salesman, Michael, the one who was wearing the rose colored glasses was YOU.


I'm glad they're off now. Welcome back to reality.





AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Michael_Hense

Excellent perspective Michael.  Although I wouldn't label We the People as evil I would point out that we have abrogated our responsibilities as a truly informed electorate. 

There is much misinformation being bandied about as the truth these days.  The advent of the internet allows anyone with a computer to broadcast anything they want to say.  It also allows extremist groups to better organize and promote their own particular brand of nationalism and/or patriotism. The Tea Party has tapped into this social media to promote their own particular brand. 

The fact that our nation has become more and more polarized over the course of many years hasn't helped promote a sound and reasonable environment where saner heads can prevail.  Our country has become meaner in my humble opinion.  We seem to be much more an in-your-face populace than we are a help-thy-neighbor one. 

Unfortunately this situation has been simmering for years and has become much more open and blatant as our elected (so called) representatives point accusing fingers and gladly join in the effort of lies, spin, misinformation, distortion all for party ideology.  Winning elections trump working for the greater good, promoting the general welfare and working for the prosperity of the nation.

Obama is as much a victim of this disgusting situation as are We the People and other more reasonable moderates in D.C.  So, it is up to We the People to do our homework, become informed, research to get at the truth in order to make a solid and informed decision this coming November.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

Who can blame him for opting to complete his "To Do" list instead of charting new paths forward that the Obstructionists would only thwart? 

Gentle reminder - I answered all of your questions but have yet to see any response from you.  Did you actually go back and read them?  Or was your demand for answers just a ploy? 

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@Sibir_Russia Naivete seems to be your strongest point. To say that this country which spent more blood, sweat and tears in defense of freedom loving everywhere people as the biggest threat is laughable. Over Iran North Korea or even Russia and China ? Oh come on. Germany and Japan would not be at what they are today if it was Russia that occupied them. Look at East Germany. Do not believe polls nowadays. They are not honest and are conducted to create false impression on who pays for them.

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@Sibir_RussiaWe're only considered the greatest threat to world peace because we're expected to be the world's police. We're blamed the most because we're  suckered in the most, and the fact is Americans are more and more in an isolationist mood.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@d_webber One reason maybe why Obama feels confident in threatening to use his pen and phone is he has finish installing the liberal judges and other people in place.

Whiskeylou1
Whiskeylou1

@DissabledResourcesYou are paranoid, vindictive and without knowledge. However i agree we need to stop outsourcing, first by charging high royalties on all unprocessed material exports except food. It violates the federal Constitution Article 10, is exempt from NAFTA, so some branch of the Dept. of Commerce must be enacted a law to protect us from out-sourcing raw materials like unprocessed logs, so our veneer plants, furniture factories and lumber mills don't close. Only states have the power to impose Royalties on exports from our shores unless from federal land. There are many people who would die first before getting job training at a community college, so there needs to be manual labor jobs for them. Don't ask me how to get people to have the self respect to refuse to buy anything not made in USA or at least the Western Hemisphere. Billboard signs maybe. Maybe Dept of Commerce would issue grants for that, but we have to get a congress that's not a bunch of Republican zombies first.

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@DissabledResourcesIf the 'our power' you're referring to is that of private enterprise, it hasn't exactly been performing wonders for the middle class. Maybe a little government power wouldn't hurt at this point.

aztecian
aztecian

@LaylaGodeyit was a powerful speech...one of the greatest!  he will not be a lame duck, not a chance.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@ReneDemonteverdeI wrote a pretty involved response to this, but after reading it, I realized it would be wasted on you, so I will opt for brevity. Shut up. I am weary of your vapid yammering.

A/S
A/S

@JoshSoffer @Sibir_Russia 

America suckered into war? Really? Here is a clue. ALL WARS ARE FOUGHT FOR RESOURCES. If you think for one moment that we go into places to be the "good guys" then why do we allow places like Darfur go on yet always have a hand in Middle Eastern affairs? OIL. 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@JoshSoffer@Sibir_Russia  

The center of world activity is shifting from the West to the East. Russia with its vast territory from Europe to Asia becomes the bridge of civilizations. The Northern Sea Route distance from Asia to Europe on 1/3 shorter and without pirates - we build icebreaker fleet. We also expansion of opportunities of air cargo transportation and the development of the transport infrastructure on the ground. Many of the policies in the USA are afraid, isolationism, but Russia is ready to lend a helping hand. Vladimir Putin proposed to abolish visas between Russia and the USA. We can in the course of 5 years to build a tunnel to North America, connecting the two continents. This question is heavily politicized. Some politicians in the United States continues to think as in the epoch of the "cold war". They continue to proclaim the hegemon USA and don't want to hear about increasing competition in the world. Such detachment from reality adversely affects the image of the United States and leads to degradation. But world does not stand still. In the end, the U.S. will have to look for a place in the multipolar reality to catch up with other countries.

 

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

His history book only goes back 5 years.

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@ltflugard RenDemonteverde writes that Obama "has no idea how to get along with others" and then disparages hm for being a community organizer.  In a previous post  he said "most liberal women are shallow empty shells and most of them are liars" and referred to liberals as 'libtards'.

I don't mean to single out RenDemonteverde, just trying to point out he's reflective of the irreconcilable oppositions in the electorate right now, and  no matter how skillful a president is at bringing sides together,  it's simply not a period in which anything can be expected out of congress.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@Curious_Quiche @ReneDemonteverde Again the truth hurts huh ? Dont worry you will get use to it. For more enlightenment and to help you think about things more broadly watch Fox News and listen to Rush. They are fair and balanced. {Did I get that right Mr Aisles ?} Sorry it is not as short as you would like it to be. But at the same time what is it in truth and facts that makes you uncomfortable ? Same reason why vampires cant survive sunlight ?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@Sibir_Russia @JoshSoffer Will Russia accept Obama if he desires to defect ? Please ?

And as added inducement you can have Joe Biden, Hillary, John the Horse Kerry as bonuses.

KeillRandor
KeillRandor

@JoshSoffer@KeillRandor 

You need to understand and recognise that the economy IS power - precisely because of what it represents.  The more that is controlled by corporations, the less power the state has.  This has led to some countries, (mainly Asian), to essentially let corporations be the state itself, but they are now suffering because of it - as everyone who understands economics knew they would.


Unfortunately many western countries haven't fully learned such lessons themselves, and are therefore now suffering in a not too dissimilar manner, although the simple cause and effects are not identical.


Corporations can and should only ever exist at the behest, for the improvement, and in support, of the state itself.  This rule has now been effectively broken, with many far-reaching consequences.


The moment the fundamental economy only exists at the behest of corporations, humanity suffers, for the state can no longer fully control its own affairs.  All the problems you talk about with globalization etc., stem form this.


The fact is, is that most of the problems we have we were warned about to begin with, but we never pair them true heed, because people have always mistaken wealth, and the associated economy, for money.

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@KeillRandor@JoshSofferWhat are the ways in which corporations wield power? Well, they can use their vast wealth to control political decisions on taxation, unionization,  foreign policy, immigration, voting districting, environmental legislation. Through globalized trade, they can keep wages low , and through mechanization they can eliminate jobs while increasing believe the profits. 

Of all of these ways in which corporations,shape the economy I believe the two most responsible for the economic crisis are globalization and mechanization. And I don't think we're going to be able to  reverse these two trends.  What we can do is use the powers of government, as well as the talents of the private sector to stabilize  the incomes of the poor and middle class through subsidizing wages and unemployment benefits, improve educational opportunity and quality from pre-school to the university level, make university education more affordable and debt less onerous, improve access to apprenticeship training for skilled jobs.

 My point about traditionalists ,not just in this country but worldwide, is that the only solution they understand is returning to a bygone era. In the U.S., the conservatives, both poor and billionaire alike, don't recognize that the perpetuation of the current situation will eventually cause the ruin of the corporate world as well as that of the middle class.  In the Middle East Al Quada and the Muslim brotherhood provide a voice for the poor uneducated just as the tea party does in the U.S. In both cases, they want to cling to an outdated past  as a solution to their being left further and further behind economically.

Wealth leaving the U.S.? Well, yes , in the form of assets being kept abroad for tax purposes, and investments in foreign facilities, but it's not as if the rest of the world is thriving economically. China will have a difficult period ahead, as will many emerging markets, while Europe will likely continue to  stagnate.    With cheap oil here, manufacturing is returning home, and stable financial U.S. markets continue to attract international money, so much wealth may remain here. It's the jobs that are disappearing more than the wealth. 

What corporations need more than a reduction in their influence(which I certainly support), is an understanding  that their long term best interest depends on supporting

 societal changes that lift up the poor and middle classes. The more enlightened leaders are beginning to appreciate this.

KeillRandor
KeillRandor

@JoshSoffer@KeillRandor 

All the problem with science, ethics and worldviews have only become problems due to the deeper economic problem(s) - even though such viewpoints and opinions have always existed, it's the current economic climate that helps such opinions to become problematic.


And such economic problems are NOT limited to the USA...  If you do not understand how and why the problems in Libya, Egypt and Syria also have an economic base aswell, then you simply do not understand economics in the first place.


Politics and economics are two sides of the same coin - one does not exist without the other, whether local/regional or national.  There is no way to separate them without ceasing any and all interaction between people in general.


I'm not saying that every corporation is evil, only that to place so much power and influence over the economy of a nation within the hands of such independent creations, is to deny the role of a nation in its own affairs and wealth - hence why it's leaving...

JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@KeillRandorI don't agree that it's ALL about economics. I think it's about deeper worldviews, which includes not just economics but views on science ,  ethics and politics. We're seeing a clash between traditionalist values and 21st century postmodern thinking, not just in the U.S but all around the world. It's a pivotal transitional period , with the right becoming more and more panicky as they see the world they knew slipping away from them. I don't think current economic issues in the West concerning wealth inequality and the shrinking middle class will be solved through political solutions alone. Even if liberals had firm political control, there is more to the situation than just corporate power and greed (an increasing number of billionaires in the U.S.  are democrats) . Even if all corporate heads were to the left of  Soros or Buffett , supporting every progressive notion that came along, there is still the massive problem of transitioning a large segment of society from low level service employment into higher skilled positions.  Many economists, such as Krugman and Summers talk about a secular stagnation, and  question whether there will ever again be enough higher skilled work to accomodate a comfortable middle class again, due to globalization and robotization of work. I'm more optimistic, but recognize that these types of sweeping societal transitions are much more multi-dimensional than can be explained by pointing the finger at evil corporations. 


JoshSoffer
JoshSoffer

@ReneDemonteverde@JoshSoffer@ltflugardCan lawyers survive in a satisfied and peaceful community? If they can, then community organizers can, too. I have a question for you. Do you think  Obama's political views are outside of the mainstream of liberal democratic politics going back to FDR? When you compare him to Truman, LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, do you see him as more to the left? If not, then  are you also aware that up until Goldwater, most Republicans were moderate Northerners from large urban areas,  who frequently found bipartisan agreement with their liberal counterparts? That's why Goldwater was viewed as such a radical conservative in 1964.  But as the Republican party continued to shift to the right, even Goldwater came to view the new social conservatives as what he called 'wacko's'. In other words, the dems haven't changed much from FDR to Obama, it's the Republicans who have.

So in attacking Obama, it would seem to me that you are really attacking American mainstream political views going back 80 years. It's half the people in this country you despise, and Obama is just a symbol for them. 

KeillRandor
KeillRandor

@ReneDemonteverde@JoshSoffer@ltflugard 

I'm in the UK, but I could explain completely how and why your (and my) country got into the positions they are in - and it has very little to do with any individual people - (though both GW Bush and Reagan have parts to play).

It's ALL about economics. Unfortunately, this is a subject very few people now truly understand, especially since many corporations and banks have successfully abstracted its description and effects from its cause.  This has caused a situation that many people and companies have been able to take advantage of, to the detriment of the majority of the populace of both of our countries.


Unfortunately for the USA in particular, one party (Republican) has taken such an extreme position for such detrimental behaviour, that the entire situation in your country has now slid so far from where it needs to be, that the only 'winners' in your country are the corporations and those that own and control them.  I'm afraid that there is a war in your country, and most of your country is losing - most of its wealth is leaving, and at some point, it will fail.  It's the Republican party that is urging this to happen, not resisting it.


This has lead to many viewpoints of those within the party to be completely at odds with the very existence of a nation and country to begin with - though very few truly understand what is happening and why their opinions truly reflect such a perception.


I'm afraid your country is being taken for a ride, and rather than resist - you support it...


This has NOTHING to do with Obama at all - it's all on the shoulders of Congress, and always has been - with the further support of Reagan and GW Bush, though the problems pre-date either, and possibly start with the very founding of your country, to begin with.  Could Obama do more?  Maybe, though you'd absolutely HATE it if he did.


Most of the problems you perceive - such as the NSA spying etc - are only truly possible because of the economic problems your country has - with the power and influence of corporations rather than the public, of money and wealth being gained from outside, rather than the productivity and wealth of the population as a whole.


There are many things that need to be done to truly restore the balance of wealth and what it represents, (hint: not money), within both of our countries, though it should be far easier for yours than mine, if only your populace and politicians both understood the problems, and cared about solving them.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@JoshSoffer @ltflugard Let me ask an obvious question Can community organizers survive in a satisfied and peaceful community ? Can they use accommodation and bipartisanship ? Can Obama survive if he does not create discontent and chaos ? Just like the Hitlers, Pol Pots and the rest of the destroyer of countries ? Single me out. Dont worry. I am just curious how a liberal mind works. Why in spite of the discontent the unemployment, rising prices, the uncertainty, the disrespect their country gets from others they insist on worshiping the man who singlehandedly with either his incompetence or do so willingly, cause this And lastly who started the comment Elections have consequences ? Who started the abominable Obama Care, two thousand pages long and crammed it down the opposition`s throat ?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@ltflugard @Curious_Quiche Because underneath that pompous know it all attitude are empty shells. Just like their god Obama. All hats no cattle. Like balloons all it take is a pin to burst them.