Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out an unashamedly progressive list of priorities for his second-term agenda.

What happened

President Obama laid out an unashamedly progressive list of priorities for his second-term agenda this week, in a State of the Union address that focused on government’s role in re-creating a “rising, thriving middle class.” The key proposals in Obama’s speech included an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9; universal pre-kindergarten schooling in every state; a jobs program to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges; and tax breaks for companies that manufacture in the U.S. He said such programs would not “increase our deficit by a single dime,” suggesting they could be paid for by tax reform and “modest” reforms to Medicare. We need a “smarter government,” he said, that “sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

Obama urged Congress to take action on reducing carbon emissions, suggesting that he would act if lawmakers did not. He concluded with an emotional call to Congress to bring gun-control legislation to the floor, including stricter background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines. “If you want to vote no, that’s your choice, but these proposals deserve a vote,” he said. Pointing to the various victims of gun crime seated in the House chamber, Obama repeated “they deserve a vote” over and over, as Democrats rose in a standing ovation. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, responding on behalf of the Republican Party, said Obama thought the solution to every problem “is for Washington to tax more, borrow more, and spend more.”

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What the editorials said

This was “the most forceful defense of liberal values by any president since Lyndon Johnson,” said the Los Angeles Times. Genuine reforms on immigration, climate change, gun control, and investment in the economy are “ambitions worthy of a great nation.” Despite the popularity of these common-sense ideas, Republicans will reflexively oppose all of them, said The New York Times. That’s why Obama has taken the fight directly to the American people. His goal is to use public opinion as “a wedge to break Washington’s gridlock.”

In his tiresome and “graceless” speech, Obama failed to describe the true state of our union—“broke,” said NationalReview.com. Obama blithely promised that his laundry list of government handouts wouldn’t add a dime to the nation’s $16 trillion deficit—a laughable conceit, considering “he already has added some 60 trillion dimes to it.” Throwing more cash at “every liberal constituency in sight” won’t get the private-sector economy growing again.

What the columnists said

Obama’s proposals were ones he’s made before, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post, but the real message was in the newly re-elected president’s confident, challenging manner. When he called attention to a 102-year-old black voter in the gallery who’d stood in line for hours to cast her ballot, and to all the relatives of gun violence in the chamber, scowling Republicans sat on their hands and “looked lost.” It was “exquisite political theater.”

Exquisite? said Kyle Wingfield in AJC.com. Obama’s address was nothing more than “a pastiche of speeches he’s given over the past four years.” Even his gun-control message, with his old preacher’s trick of repeating the same phrase again and again—“they deserve a vote”—will not get his proposals through the Republican-controlled House. This was just “campaign rally, rah rah stuff.” But we conservatives dismiss Obama’s rhetorical skills at our own peril, said Pete Hegseth in NationalReview.com. “He has mastered the art of grandstanding on ‘common sense’ while accusing his opponents of perpetual obstructionism.” As long as Republicans remain stuck in that role, Obama has the upper hand.

Doesn’t he know it, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. With Washington in permanent gridlock and the sequester fight looming, Obama is doubling down on the strategy he used in the election campaign—painting his opponents as “crazed ideologues,” and tantalizing Americans with a vision of what he’d do if Congress would only let him: put people to work rebuilding bridges, raise the minimum wage, fix Medicare, do something to reduce the casualties of our gun culture. “Like most of the big political nights over the past year, this one belonged to Obama.”

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