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Considering his situation, Obama did fine with State of the Union address

REUTERS/Larry Downing
President Barack Obama shaking hands with attendees following his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

I thought President Obama did fine Tuesday night. Not great, but fine, considering the situation and the pre-speech hype. But I don’t expect anything much will come of it (considering the situation).  

Despite his low and falling popularity and the daunting congressional gridlock that he faced, Obama put out a lot of ideas for action — not big ones and hardly any new ones, but plenty of good ones.

Despite the long odds against getting the Republican votes he would need to enact them, Obama seemed upbeat and unbowed.

Executive actions

Despite the pre-speech rumblings about executive actions that might test the constitutional limits of his authority, the only one he specified — increasing the minimum wage for workers employed under future federal contracts — was modest, and even Speaker John Boehner has acknowledged is within his authority. If Obama is going to create a constitutional crisis over executive imperialism, it will have to come from things beyond those he specified last night.

For me, the best passage of the speech was the blunt challenge to Republicans over Obamacare: Stop wasting time and energy voting over and over to repeal a law that you don’t have the votes to repeal. Say what you would do to improve upon the features of the law that you don’t like. Here’s the quote:

If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up.

It’s a fair challenge. The single funniest thing Obama said was also in the Affordable Care Act section:

I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law.

The most profound sentence in the hour-long speech, and I hope he really meant it, got little notice:

America must move off a permanent war footing.

I wish he meant it in the deepest sense. America has been on a permanent war footing since at least the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But I at least dearly hope that Obama will fulfill his original campaign pledge to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and not start a new one.

The emotional high point of the speech, the wounded soldier in the gallery, was for me the maudlin, exploitive low point of the speech. But of course everything should be done to help the young man continue his recovery.

Here’s the text of the speech.

GOP response

The official Republican response by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers was insipid and an apparent admission that the GOP has no specific proposals for government action that can help anyone.

Seriously, here’s the full McMorris Rogers text. Find one actionable proposal.

On Fox, where there was no pretense of any balance on the panel of post-speech analysts, Charles Krauthammer acknowledged that McMorris Rogers’ speech “had no specifics at all” but nonetheless “did what it had to do, show a gentler face of conservatism.”

On CNN, where they did have a bipartisan panel, there was a lot of talk about how difficult it is to deliver the response. When Republican political operative Alex Castellanos started complimenting the McMorris Rogers’ presentation, John King challenged him to cite one substantive thing she had said or proposed. Castellanos replied: “I saw a wonderful new face of the Republican Party. I want to see more of that.”

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/29/2014 - 10:24 am.

    SOTU 2014

    Yes, it was a good speech. Not a great speech, but better than he has given in the past. I was hoping for a little more rhetorical fire on inequality, but what was delivered was good.

    After all the applause for Sergeant Remsburg died down, I wish someone had the courage to ask why he had been deployed ten times.

  2. Submitted by Jim Camery on 01/29/2014 - 11:00 am.

    The real rebuttal

    I was hoping that the real Dems would have an opportunity for a rebuttal and Bernie Sanders would give it. Do we need a 3rd party? I’d settle for a 2nd.

  3. Submitted by Jill Zahniser on 01/29/2014 - 01:09 pm.

    War Footing

    I too was struck by the comment about taking the US off permanent war footing.

    In that light, the decision to highlight Remsburg–a moment maximized by Obama’s decision not to call on any of the other people the speech mentioned–could be seen as underscoring the staggering cost to the nation of constantly being at war.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/29/2014 - 02:23 pm.

    Now wasn’t that a sight to behold

    From the absolutely positively totally broken and dysfunctional Republican Party comes the three headed response to the President’s State of the Union response. Cathy McMorris Rodgers – Republican. Okay I get it, the party does have a women in it. Rodgers appears to be much down the line of a Michele Bachmann. No real accomplishments after being in office for 8 years. Hard right conservative. She is not known for working with Democrats. Mike Lee, T-Party; Architect of the last government shutdown. That’s all you need to know about him. Rand Paul – was T-Party last time around, now I guess he’s just representing himself. Paul essentially used the traditional Republican talking points to inspire people across America. The Republican Party can’t even come up with a unified Republican response to a speech that is done more out of tradition than requirement. This is more proof everyone in the party thinks they are the party leader. Is this the change the Republican Party was talking about making to rebrand itself? They did leave out the word “meaningful” party change, so I guess this is it. The other day the GOP Chairman said the Republican policies and principles are sounds. How can that be when they keep losing elections? They may be sound for the privileged few the party serves, but not the entire country. If they want to keep feeding their base and not growing the party they are definitely on the right track, which will only lead them to continued failure as a party. Party problems – Governors Chris Christe, Huckabee, and McDonald on their way down. The war on women, minorities, and taxes continues despite denials, actions speak much louder than words. The Republican fix to everything is you’re on your own baby! Michigan’s GOP Governor Snyder was bold enough to say “not fixing our immigration policy for POLITICAL REASONS IS DUMB”. Mexican Immigration was a problem created by politicians for politicians and now the politicians won’t fix it because it is too toxic. Defending the undocumented field workers the GOP has often said they are doing the jobs no one else will do. This has been going on long enough that the undocumented have had children that are now US Citizens. What are the politicians going to do send the parents back and leave the kids here or send the parents and their US citizen kids back to Mexico? Immigration has turned in to a moral issue that has to be fixed. I guess this is how the Republicans appeal to the Hispanic community of America.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/29/2014 - 02:23 pm.


    The speech was a campaign style pep talk that dressed up the usual talking points in order to satisfy the entrenched, status quo democratic special interest groups.

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/29/2014 - 04:09 pm.


    I’m curious about the My-RA plan. I’m looking forward to hearing more about. One of the long term problems we have as a society is the lack of savings and personal investment. If this helps out, then I’m for it.
    Regarding GOP plans for health care, I just happened to read this yesterday, describing the outline of a policy proposal:

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/29/2014 - 08:29 pm.

      There’s some mysterious relationship

      between a drop in real wages and a drop in personal savings and investment.
      And there’s a difference between proposals from think tanks and actual party proposals made by candidates for public office.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/30/2014 - 09:34 am.

      …GOP plans for health

      …GOP plans for health care…

      Oddly enough, the first step of the plan is to repeal Obamacare.

      Then mix together tax credits, no mandates, and no minimum requirements for insurance plans, and it’ll all be better, or so they assume.

      They say the plan addresses health-care costs, but what it addresses is health-insurance costs, mainly through the elimination of coverage.

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 01/29/2014 - 08:39 pm.


    “Details were scarce Tuesday night, but employees will be able to contribute part of their wages to the savings accounts, which would be backed by the U.S. government. ”

    Didn’t George W. Bush want to do the same thing a decade ago with the part of the wages being a portion of what would have gone into Social Security? Private accounts, there’s an idea. Maybe a different messenger will make the difference now that the Treasury Department has orders to make it happen.

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/30/2014 - 12:23 pm.

    Tone Deaf

    Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said on CNN that he is happy there were all the Republican responses to the SOTU. It appears the fact that there isn’t any Republican Party message for the public to focus on doesn’t bother him. He was happy, the biggest thorn in the Republican’s side, the T-party, gave a response. The T-party is the group mainly responsible for taking the Republican Party to it knees, but nevertheless he is still happy they gave a response. The party is in such shambles that no one wants to become the leader because they will be shackled with the responsibility of cleaning up the mess. Tone deaf comes to mind when you hear the Republicans defending their un-defendable positions. Priebus went so far as to claim the Republicans are going to have a good year. I believe he is referring to a good year of continued obstructionism and not election results.

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