In his call for smarter government, President Obama was consciously trying to move away from the positioning that was ascribed to him after his inaugural address, that of adopting a new liberal agenda.
That being said, with the President’s calls for more investment, raising taxes, unspecified reforms of the tax system and only modest reform to entitlement programs, President Obama was really offering nothing new. The SOTU was, as we have become accustomed to, more of the same.
There were the gestures towards bipartisanship lawmaking and a shift away from the brinksmanship that has paralyzed our system that we heard from Obama on the campaign trail, in his inaugural address and during the fiscal cliff negotiations. However, there was no palpable desire and willingness to achieve bipartisanship or to call on the Republicans for any bargain that would produce immediate legislative results.
To be sure, bipartisan lawmaking is what we need. To this end, the President failed to tell us how we will achieve it, especially considering the divisiveness of Washington politics today.
Nevertheless, tonight’s SOTU address was a well-delivered and well-crafted speech, designed to get the appropriate applause lines. But to see the speech as anything other than a reiteration of the themes that the President has articulated previously would be a mistake.
What the President and his backers would say is that the themes he emphasized tonight – including but not limited to equality, spending and supporting the middle class – have won him election twice and put him above 50 percent in approval. To be sure, and if history is any guide, tonight’s speech will increase that rating by some 3-5 points in the coming days.
The real question is can the Republicans offer a credible alternative to the President’s vision for America?
I believe that Marco Rubio began a very long process with an alternative worldview focusing on smaller government, lower taxes and economic growth. But as I have argued for years, the Republicans have a difficult road ahead of them.
Make no mistake, this is the President’s night and it will always be the President’s night.
The speech, if nothing else, was a clear articulation of his worldview and policies that have proven to be popular since he took the stage at the 2004 DNC in Denver.
It follows that notwithstanding the rhetoric of tonight’s speech, we are no more united tonight than we were before this evening. The prospect for an agreement on the sequester, tax reform and a budget going forward is just as illusory as ever.