Obama's State of Union address reveals 'scaled-down ambition'

Jan 29, 2014

President promises action on 'bread-and-butter' issues, but 'audacity of hope' has evaporated

PRESIDENT OBAMA promised a "year of action" in his State of the Union address last night, vowing to bypass Congress to tackle economic inequality by revamping America's tax system and raising the minimum wage. Here's what the press made of the president's speech:

Writing in the New York Times, Carl Hulse says the address represents an exercise in "scaled-down ambition". While he urged Republicans to join him in his "year of action", the president also "signalled strongly he would act unilaterally when bipartisan agreement remained out of reach".

The BBC's Katty Kay agrees that Obama's "audacity of hope" has evaporated. This State of the Union address "didn't promise big changes on anything - there was no transformation on offer here". On a more positive note, the speech did at least "touch on bread-and-butter issues that genuinely affect millions of Americans," Kay writes. They include "savings plans for workers who don't have them, health insurance, training schemes and the minimum wage, just to name a few".

The speech is not one Obama would have wanted to make. "This wasn't the presidency Barack Obama had in mind after winning his historic election five years ago," writes Scott Wilson in the Washington Post. "But it is the one he believes he has left." For the first time since his election, Obama spoke to Congress from "a clear position of confrontation," Wilson says. He threatened to veto new Iran sanctions, warned against further moves against his health-care laws and demanded action on a series of previously proposed economic measures.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph Tim Stanley says Obama's State of the Union could turn out to be "very significant". That's because the president's vow to bypass Congress – while troubling from a constitutional point of view – promises "an interesting year ahead".

The two issues discussed in the speech that really matter are the minimum wage and Iran, says Stanley. On the former, Obama promised an "executive order to raise it for federal workers, with the goal of spurring Congress to do the same for everyone else". Good for him, writes Stanley. On the subject of Iran, the president said he believes negotiations can work; he will make them work. "Again, good for him," writes Stanley.

CNN describes the address as "vintage Obama" thanks to the "hopeful calls for a unified approach and declarations of presidential independence through executive orders". The calls to recalibrate the tax system, spend more to rebuild roads and bridges, bolster education and avoid war if at all possible, were also "familiar", CNN says.

Obama's "agenda" is broken down topic by topic in the New York Times, which notes that the President is now in a position to act "aggressively and substantively" on climate change. The paper declares that the lasting image of the speech came at the end, when Obama paid "a heart-tugging tribute" to injured serviceman Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger sergeant, who "has come to represent the tens of thousands of Americans injured in Afghanistan".

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Good luck Obama. I think I know why you can't get much through Congress..

Maybe it's time for a Chief Executive who has at least some executive experience when he starts the job...