Pundits respond to Obama’s State of the Union

David Bartholomew

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night drew fire and praise from both sides of the aisle almost immediately after he finished speaking.

Trying to send a message in his final SOTU speech before his re-election bid in November, Obama outlined his accomplishments as president, stressed the importance of economic recovery and essentially set the tone for his campaign.

Going off the analogy of military cohesiveness to stress what he would like to bring to Congress, Obama highlighted several key points in his hour plus long speech that he felt needed to be addressed in the upcoming year.

Topics discussed were tax reform, education, housing, immigration, energy, trade and, most importantly, jobs. Obama called for such things as the raising of taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help pay off the national debt as well as tougher standards for teachers, college debt forgiveness, a path to citizenship for immigrants and increased American manufacturing, particularly in the area of clean energy.

“The President’s speech was the beginning of the 2012 race for the White House,” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science. “It was a positioning by Obama on how the Democrats plan to run in the fall. It was also used to help pass certain legislation in the House.”

It is true that the Republicans appear to be gearing up to launch a massive presidential campaign against Obama this year, but so far infighting between presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich has been held up in the primaries and reflexively the Republican Party has struggled to unify around a single candidate.

Last night, when he discussed raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Obama seized on this opportunity and even made an indirect jab at Romney, who recently showed he only paid 14 percent in taxes last year.

“Obama’s speech wasn’t any more unusual than Bush, Reagan or Carter in their election years’ State of the Union speeches,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics. “It was an agenda for what he wanted to accomplish on the campaign trail.”

The speech on Tuesday night was directed towards mobilizing the president’s liberal base for the election, especially through such rhetoric as the military analogy, tax, energy and education reform, but looks to have had less of an impact on right-wing Republicans.

“It was a well-delivered speech,” Bystrom said. “The most powerful part was the opening and closing, drawing the military analogies which will hit home with Democrats and independents. … However, the economy is the most important to voters. The last couple of economic reports have been favorable to Obama, but the economy still needs to improve for him to solidify a victory in November.”

Aside from the election, the other question is how this speech will impact the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has been very defiant towards Obama this past year. Additionally, Schmidt said, Obama may have been too broad with his speech.

“[Obama] kind of went through too many things and was more or less a checklist,” Schmidt said. “Not very many, if any, of his proposals will get through the House. The Republicans have been very successful at blocking anything that will help Obama get the economy moving again. … He also never really talked about the deficit and spending cuts.”

After the speech, the Republican Party gave a televised response, delivered by Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who accused the president of having a “pro-poverty policy” and expanding the national deficit with massive spending.

Since then, there has been talk about bringing Daniels into the Republican presidential race to end the campaigns of Gingrich and Romney who seem to be dividing the party rather than unifying it.

“The Republican response was the expected one. Mitch Daniels did a good job, though,” Schmidt said. “Many Republicans want Daniels to step into the race. That could make things very interesting.”

Going forward, President Obama’s State of the Union set the tone for the president in the next year as he tries to pass legislation through the House, defend his policies and lock up another four years as president of the United States.