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State of the Union Review

January 28, 2010

In my (humble opinion), I found this a fascinating speech (full text after this post).  Really great in many ways, but parts struck me as quite odd.  I feel a bit like Obama took a card from the Joe Wilson book, coming off his perch for moments to take some political shots.  Most notably, after describing tax cuts with no reaction from the Republicans, he called out Republicans for not standing.  Several other jokes were cracked that struck me as much more casual than I expect at such a ceremonial occasion.  That said, I found some parts phenomenal.

One striking moment was when Obama tackled the recent Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and called out what he saw as a bad decision.  I’m not sure to the precedent of telling the Court they are wrong to their face, but it seemed really unexpected (and Justice Alito seemed to agree–CNN saying he said “No, that’s not true”).

That said, I loved his introduction,

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.

As he continued, I loved the way he framed the need to address global warming.  It also seems to have been off script or a last minute addition, as it’s not in the prepared remarks.  He nicely shift it from a science discussion (while saying it was nearly irrefutable) to an issue of jobs.  Paraphrasing, he said that ‘Even if you doubt the overwhelming science behind it, you can’t doubt that the nation that has the leading clean energy economy will lead the global economy.’

Health care was fascinating, and seemed to me to be a very honest plea to not walk away.  I think he could have more effectively laid out the exact things that reform would do for families.  He did to some extent, but I don’t think he did it enough. Pre-existing conditions seem to me to be something no one could oppose–especially when given some of the absurd reasons insurance companies find.  This should have been fleshed out a bit more so that people could have understood the details, not the messy process.

He obviously drove home the jobs issue and I think did a pretty good job of explaining what has been done so far to slow the bleeding, so to speak.

On the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I think we got a solid shout out that will provide a needed boost and sent a clear signal to the leadership of the armed forces from the Commander-in-Chief.  It certainly wasn’t a necessary, and there was interestingly quite a vocal response in support.  I fear the sentence before may be lost, but he also highlighted the success of hate crimes legislation–an often overlooked success that is shared among many parties.

We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

Finally, jumping back to the issue of the partisanship.  I maintain that some of the digs could have been left out, as this passage quite effectively summed it up.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

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