“Let’s get it done.”
That was the mantra of President Obama’s first State of the Union Address of his second term. He used the phrase frequently, while aggressively outlining his plans for the future and asserting that the current state of our union is “stronger.”
Citing the winding down of the wars and the slow but steady improvement of the housing market and the economy, he reminded America that we are in fact heading on an upward trajectory.
In a speech spanning over an hour, Obama’s mood oscillated between confident and emphatic, impassioned and pragmatic, stern and at times playful.
He spent a bulk of the first half of the speech talking about the economy and finding ways to improve it was the common thread that tied together a slew of topics ranging from education to energy to job creation.
He publicly castigated the implementation of the sequester, which will initiate a series of job-crippling spending cuts to various government programs if the deadline is not met later this month. He also voiced his opposition to repeatedly debating the debt limit in an almost jovial fashion, claiming:
“The greatest nation cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree right here, right now to keep the people’s government open and pay our bills on time.”
Statements like this were embraced by the two parties in an image that pretty much sums up things in Washington these days (see pic above).
Obama called for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes a combination of tax reform and spending cuts. He even voiced support for reforms that would reduce Medicare spending; reforms that would equal the amount of Medicare cuts proposed by the Simpson-Boles commission. Reforms that would reduce costs while also improving efficiency and the quality of care.
He made a vocal call to close loopholes for corporations and the wealthy, proposing comprehensive tax reform that would create jobs, increase revenue and reduce the deficit. This would involve a tax code that lowers incentives for corporations that ship jobs overseas and increases benefits for companies that create jobs here. He drove home a narrative that pitched the middle class versus the wealthy, the vulnerable verses the corporations; themes he rode to a second term.
He also made a not-so-subtle jab at Republican orthodoxy, claiming, “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.” In follow-up remarks, he put the emphasis where it needs to be, on training and employing the work force of tomorrow. In doing so, he cited his Jobs Act from two years ago; a majority of which was rejected by the last congress. He then playfully requested that they pass the rest of it this time around.
He made numerous calls for investing in the future of clean energy technology to create the jobs and the scientific advancements of the next generation. He vowed to pay for research though did not specify how; something Republicans were quick to pounce on in the post-speech spin cycle.
He made what was by far the most emphatic call for action on climate change of his presidency. Though he urged Congress to embark on legislation like the bill proposed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman several years ago, he vowed to go it alone if they failed to act, initiating any executive actions he has at his disposal.
He also called for Congress to pass a bill currently being debated that would allow homeowners to refinance, thus saving them $3000 a year. He stated the obvious, that bills like this are not and should not be a partisan issue. This was one of three times he made such a pledge in attempts to jostle both sides of the aisle. Republicans will assert that these were combative jabs but if they were, such jabs were justified and rooted in truth.
Obama also made a rarely heard call for affordable pre-school education for all children. He linked this to a need for improved quality and accessibility to education at all levels. He even proposed a program that would encourage companies and universities to work in tandem with high schools to improve education and better equip students for our technologically evolving workforce.
And to no surprise, Obama tackled immigration, claiming, “The time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Now’s the time to do it. Now’s the time to get it done.” This was followed by thunderous applause and, once again…Boehner echoes the GOP piss-poor attitude (see pic at left).
He then reeled off a list of immigration issues including several compromises embraced by the GOP, signaling an earnest desire to get a bipartisan bill passed while also emphasizing the urgency in doing so in the next few months.
After informing those in attendance that earlier in the day the Senate passed the “Violence against Women Act”, he urged the House to pass it as well. He followed that with a call to pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” the latest move in a civil rights crusade that he has expanded to include the rights of homosexuals.
In a surprise move, he proposed raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $9 per hour. After recalling that he and Mitt Romney actually agreed on tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, the camera cut to failed veep candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) who was smirking in disapproval as he slipped into a fantasy in which AC/DC serenades him as he and the swashbuckling ghost of Ronald Regan slash taxes and annihilate government programs.
On foreign policy, Obama vowed to finish the job in Afghanistan; one of the emotional apexes of the evening. He also promised to, though without saying so explicitly, continue his drone strikes. He added that he has never hid from Congress and will continue fighting his drone war in a moral and transparent fashion.
He hit the obligatory and appropriate notes on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, reducing our own arsenal of them, helping the Syrian cause and, of course, pledging eternal allegiance to Israel.
I admittedly pumped my fist in approval when Obama tackled the issue of voting rights; finally citing, if not condemning, Republican efforts to disenfranchise Democratic voters. He announced a non-partisan commission to improve voting conditions comprised of his and Romney’s campaign lawyers. Another highpoint of the night was when he introduced Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami voter who waited six hours for the opportunity to cast her vote in the last election.
But by far, the emotional zenith of the evening arrived when he addressed gun control. In a rousing call for Congressional action, he said that the victims and families of random gun violence “deserve a vote” on legislation that calls for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. “They deserve a vote,” he said simply. Then he said it again. And again.
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.” He practically shouted. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” He then reeled of a list of communities that have been ravaged by mass shootings over the years, repeating with incrementally increased zeal, “They deserve a vote! They deserve a vote! They deserve a vote!”
WATCH (story continues below the video):
Immediately after the speech, FOX pundits castigated the speech (surprise!) as doing nothing to improve the bipartisan climate in Washington and they very well may be right. The only thing that could assuage partisan rancor of this caliber is Obama’s leaving office.
In his official Republican Response to the speech, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), drowning in faux sincerity and suffering from an apparent case of Paul Ryan cotton mouth, made a heartfelt rebuttal that was more Sally Struthers than ‘The Republican Savior’ as he was recently anointed by Time Magazine.
Rubio made tired calls for smaller government, lower taxes, deficit reduction and bla bla bla. Obamacare is a buzz-killing job killer (lie), yadda yadda yadda. While regurgitating Tea Party talking points, he seemed so personally concerned and hurt by Obama’s direction for the country, I thought he was going to start crying even though he was far too dehydrated to manufacture saliva, let alone tears. When he started talking about parents looking into the eyes of their newborn child, I nodded off and woke up in a puddle of my own vomit. I immediately washed the bad taste out of my mouth with a bottle of Poland Spring.
WATCH this classic Rubio moment that will live on for the rest of his public career (story continues below):
In the official Tea Party response (Batshit Bachmann did it better), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called Obama a king or suggested that he was acting like a king and that the Second Amendment was now on the endangered species list and naturally, I blacked out again.
While I slept, I dreamt of a second term in which Congress passes sweeping gun safety legislation, comprehensive immigration reform and a thorough restructuring of the tax code. It was a magical vision of a country where people never go to bed hungry and Marco Rubio never goes on the air thirsty. It was a good dream. And a great America.