Darren Richardson

Feb. 12, 2013

President Barack Obama came out swinging in support of his economic vision during his State of the Union speech Tuesday in Washington, urging Congress to ask more “from the wealthiest and most powerful” as part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction and economic growth.

Using a populist tone that urged legislators to avoid “the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors,” Obama said “the greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.”

In one of the most confident speeches of his political career, the president spoke like a leader ready to lead the nation into more prosperous times, bored with the childish shenanigans of Republicans in Congress and intent on doing what needs to be done to improve the economic quality of life for American citizens.

“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts,” Obama told the legislators gathered in the Capitol's House Chamber. "Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

By tying virtually every proposal he made in the first two-thirds of his speech to economic improvement, Obama sent a message that at this point in his presidency, he is ready, willing and able to stand up to Republican obstructionists in the House and Senate who are always maneuvering to prevent the administration from doing what voters elected Obama to get done.

“We should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all,” Obama asked rhetorically, “why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?”

The president also proposed an overhaul of immigration policy, framing that in economic terms as well. “Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants,” Obama said. “And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Obama even managed to push the House to pass of the Violence Against Women Act by taking an economic tact, saying, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

In pushing for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour, Obama invoked something he and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney agreed on in last year’s presidential campaign. “Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”


As so many pundits said he must do, Obama focused on the economy in the first State of the Union speech of his second term. While he also spent time talking about gun control proposals and the importance of securing voting rights for all Americans, this speech was first and foremost a speech about how to improve the economy.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s critics often accused him of using soaring rhetoric without offering tangible proposals. That criticism was somewhat justified at the time, but Obama exhibited a kind of rhetorical maturity tonight that was more reminiscent of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at their populist best. He connected with everyday citizens, and he did so in a way that didn’t come across so much partisan as it did practical. That could pay big dividends for the Democratic Party down the road.

Because Republicans control the House, it’s going to take a groundswell of public support for many of Obama’s proposals to pass in this Congress, the 113th. It could happen, but even if it doesn’t, the president’s speech tonight bodes well for Democratic chances for a takeover of the House in 2014. By continuing to stay positive with his focus on jobs, bipartisan cooperation and economic improvement, Republicans who oppose him become, by default, the archetypal bad guys.

The 2014 midterms are a long way off, but that doesn’t mean politicians on both sides aren’t thinking about the next Election Day. Obama’s address almost certainly will boost the Democratic Party brand and lay the groundwork for further gains in popularity, at least until Republicans can offer something better than simply opposing almost anything and everything this president has to say.

Sources and Resources:

MSNBC television broadcast of speech

Full transcript of 2013 State of the Union address, ABC News, Feb. 12, 2013

Full transcript of 2013 State of the Union address, Politico, Feb. 12, 2013

Associated Press fact-check of State of the Union address, AP, Feb. 12, 2013