What I thought the President needed to do:
Let me start from what I didn't think he needed to do. President Obama did not have to appear to be reaching out to Congressional Republicans nor, for that matter, Congressional Democrats. He doesn't much like them. They don't much like him and, unlike Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama is not a good actor.
What he did need to do was to make a start in reassuring interested Americans that he is capable of not just getting through the next three years (he only got through 2013 because December 31 happened); but that he can do even small things to help the economy and the people who go to work every day to make the economy work.
Americans are distrustful and disdainful of their government leaders and he's the Leader-in-Chief.
I watched CNN which was like watching the Red Carpet pre-show of any of the hundreds of award shows. I Tweeted:
Oooh! There's the Chief Justice in a very stylish black robe designed, we're told, by Jos. A. Bank.
I don't like to watch the pre-speech banter because I'm about to watch it for myself and I don't want my thinking colored by continuing to mentally argue with something someone said 20 minutes before.
I turned it off, turning CNN back on when I was pretty sure the speech was about to start.
I turned off Twitter on the grounds that I didn't need to see 300 people Tweeting the speech line-by-line while I was watching it.
Smart start to the speech by not proclaiming "The State of the Union is Strong …" or some variant. He wisely started by patting everyday Americans on the back for being everyday Americans.
Very smart, I thought.
Them's fightin' words: "
America does not stand still and neither will I. Whenever I can take steps to expand opportunity for American families, that's what I'm gonna do."
Great litany of the chairman of GM (Mary T. Barra) as the daughter of a line worker to the "son of a barkeep" now the Speaker of the House (John Boehner), ending with the son of a single mom as President of the United States.
During the infrastructure piece, the President said he would use his executive order powers to make permitting easier to put people to work fixing roads, bridges and the like. He could have done this starting at about 2 pm January 20, 2009 but he didn't understand how suffocating new rules and regs are to economic growth.
I hope someone at the RNC starts keeping track of Rules & Regulations Reversed. If any.
Hit natural gas hard as the "bridge fuel." "Business will invest $100 billion to build factories that use natural gas." He sounded like he was reciting from the Pickens Plan (for which I still do work).
His discussion of solar energy was met with silence until he talked (however obliquely) of taxing fossil fuel developers to pay for alternative fuels. Energy redistribution.
Hard to disagree with his description of a "broken immigration system." "Let's get immigration reform done this year."
The longest single section of the speech. There is no better predictor of employability that level of education. It is a straight line from no HS diploma (about 15%) to a professional degree (about 2.1%)
We have to make sure every American has the skills to fill the jobs. Joe Biden was named as the head of a new government program that will train Americans to be capable of filling the jobs "right now." First job Biden should fill should be a tailor who can make him a suit that doesn't look like he got it from the maître d of a North Korean dive bar.
Long riff - LONG riff - on women in the workplace.
Pointed to a pizza parlor owner who raised the wages of his workers to "ten bucks an hour."
Called on corporate America to follow his lead. Then said he would issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage of Federal contract employees to slightly over $10 per hour. Not sure how that gets paid for.
Called on Congress to "Give America a Raise" by boosting the national minimum wage.
Announced a new program call "My-RA" which, I think, stands for My Retirement Account. Wealthy Americans get tax breaks for retirement funds, but middle class workers do not. My 401(k) is now up to $12.34 so I'm pretty much set.
Talked about the glories of Obamacare - which he called the Affordable Care Act. Also that no American can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, etc. etc. To hear him talk about it there should be people dancing in the streets at its success.
Challenged the GOP that if they have a plan to do it better, "let's see if the numbers add up." GOP should take that line to the bank. "Let's see if the Obamacare numbers add up."
Called on Americans to help get everyone signed up by March 31. Long way to go and the clock is ticking.
Voting rights and gun control each got about 20 seconds.
National Defense and Foreign Policy
Shout out (and the longest applause) to the uniformed military. Said that we'd be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year "and America's longest war will be over."
The problem of Afghanistan - and the problems with Afghanistan) will continue through the end of this Administration.
Talked about terrorist networks and terrorist attacks both physical and cyber. Got a standing ovation, but not very stirring language or delivery.
Changed the calculus by saying he would not shrink from using force, but "America must move off a permanent war footing" which led to a tepid round of applause.
Brushed up against NSA issue, called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and gave credit to U.S. diplomacy for chemical weapons being removed from Syria.
Said it is "diplomacy backed by strength" that Iran is removing its highest level of nuclear stocks. Threatened to veto any bill that calls for new sanctions against Iran.
The Iranian section immediately followed a pledge of support for Israel. Very good construction.
Made a pitch for "Team USA" marching into the stadium in Sochi "and bringing home the gold." Greeted by a standing O and a muffled chant of "USA! USA!"
Good pitch for better care for wounded warriors - including those needing mental health care.
Moving testament to a wounded Ranger whom the President had me prior to his injury (during his 10th deployment by an IED) who was sitting in the balcony with his dad next to the First Lady. Very moving. That drew the longest standing ovation. By far.
The President used the energy generated by the lengthy tribute to the wounded Sergeant to conclude with:
My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress - to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.
The America we want for our kids - a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us - none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow - I know it's within our reach.
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
This was a tough challenge. The President's job approval is stuck in the low 40s. Obamacare is not going well. Unemployment is stubbornly high. Foreign policy is iffy at best.
I think he did as well as he could have done. The writers and policy people worked hard to find the best examples of what he wanted to talk about.
But, was it a State of the Union report?
No. It was a campaign speech delivered in the House Chamber. It was good. But it will not change the arc of this Presidency.