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State of the Union: The good, the curious, and the subtle

February 12, 2013, at 11:14 PM

A speed-read analysis of the president's State of the Union address:

The good:

The president mentioned Republicans 10 times, almost all in a positive context. He emphasized areas of agreement.

A voting commission led by Bob Bauer, the president's personal lawyer, and Ben Ginsberg, the Republican uber-lawyer, is bound to produce some good reforms. Both men are serious; they are friends, and they won't let the chance to change voting laws go without making a change.

His call for comprehensive immigration reform noted progress in both chambers, and did nothing to upset the tricky balancing act that's required to pass legislation this year. 

The curious:

The president put Congress on notice: Pass climate change legislation or yield to more regulation on carbon by the Environmental Protection Agency. Why even mention this? It's the beginning of a public campaign to sell to Americans the idea of more regulation. 

Obama should know by now how much John McCain dislikes him, and any presidential shout-outs are bound to be met with what MNSBC's Chris Hayes calls his "patented smile-grimace."

The president's call for a minimum wage of $9, as well as for increases tied to inflation, was unexpected, but it was something that Obama mentioned frequently during his first presidential campaign.

"Give the victims of Sandy Hook a voice!" — powerful, effective, and demagogic. But that's what speeches are for. 

President Obama did not offer specifics on spending, on how he would pay for his new proposals, and on what the White House is willing to do to avoid the sequester, which kicks in on March 1. Universal pre-K is a new entitlement that's easy to cheer for; from where will the money come? 

The subtle:

The president put his own party on notice about gun control. Not only did his evocative call to give gun violence victims a voice put pressure on Republicans in the House not to bottle up gun control legislation in committee, but he also did the same thing for vulnerable Democrats in marginal districts. 

The president spoke of unspecified nuclear "reductions," which hints at a larger proposal, possibly later in the year, on the anniversary of his nuclear reduction speech in Prague. 

The language the president used on Medicare and Social Security implicitly conceded that he'll agree to some cuts; he cut from the text of the speech a line about wondering why "deficit reduction emergency justified cutting Social Security benefits, but not closing some loopholes?"

And finally, by not proposing a new "Grand Bargain" tonight, Obama has effectively foreclosed on the idea. Forever. 

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