State of the Union
How is Obama different than his Predecessors?
During his presidential campaign and the brief period that followed, Obama – through the momentum of change – gained massive support to his numerous policies for the country. Year one of presidency however might have showed the tactful politician that it might take more than aspiration and sincerity. Thus, did the State of the Union manifest any lessons learned?
From Change to Reform
After an articulate introduction explaining the country’s status quo which –according to Obama– shows signs of improvement albeit being plagued with several setbacks, Obama reiterated on the importance of empowering the economy in overcoming future challenges. Consequently the American president highlighted the country’s rise from economic ashes as a result of the financial reform implemented since his coming to the white house. What was very clear in his speech was the shift from the idea of change used last year, to the idea of enhancing reform in different sectors of the economy, which in turn displayed a shift of interest from health care to unemployment. It may seem that Obama throughout last year hast noticed the heightening frustration with the rates of unemployment, and accordingly gave it precedence during his speech.
In that sense, Obama took pride in the hefty reduction of taxes that should empower the middle class and provide employment opportunities. Nevertheless, this particular part of Obama’s reform agenda, has raised more eyebrows than it turned heads. Despite its assured positive effects, a clear contradiction could be traced between tax removal strategies and Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, since the money saved for employment is apparently being spent in war. On that matter, Obama has taken the time to explain that “taking the fight to al – Qaeda” is considered a cornerstone in the road of bringing American soldiers back home. In any case, the war against terror seems to have been scapegoated by domestic predicaments, as it received minimal attention during post-speech analysis.
On the other hand, Obama remained resilient concerning his health care reform initiative, which put a number frowns on republican faces due to the ruptures and anti-government sentiments it had triggered upon its initial introduction. Obama used his impressive public speaking to describe a dire American situation without the work-in-progress health care plan and put speakers-against in a face-off with public opinion in saying “‘I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.”
Lessons over learned?
Regardless of the new shiny goals, “change has not come fast enough” and the current domestic and international context still lingers and stumbles. Analysts see that Obama, at best, has merely sugar coated his 2008 campaign with new concepts such as reform and shifting public attention to long lasting development goals like employment opportunities. A post-speech poll released by BBC World News America and Harris Interactive showed that 84 percent of those surveyed viewed the state of the union negatively, 40 percent of which giving the lowest rating of “poor”.
Obama has mentioned in his speech that the Democrats were witnessing their highest popularity peak in the past ten years, overlooking the three recent consecutive governorship electoral losses by democrats in November of 2009. Political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have explained on CBS News after the speech that Obama – being an intelligent politician- has managed to evade giving solutions to many of the challenges the nation is facing. Furthermore, Heilemann and Halperin see that the Democrats may have “over learned” their lessons when it comes to following a pre-designated action plan. During Obama’s presidential campaign, democrats followed their action plan unaffected by external variables, but given the current socio-economic background, they need to start coping with the contextual changes.
At the top of his speech Obama said: “when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular — I would do what was necessary”. Conversely, it might be time for Obama to start doing what is popular.