The most concise and cogent appraisal of this year’s State of the Union address, which Barack Obama delivered at night in Washington, can be found on the blog of Brookings Institute political scientist William Galston: “a clear, forceful, partisan speech.” All three attributes fit precisely.
We knew beforehand that Obama would speak from the position of the president of a country whose economy last year definitively overcame the repercussions of the recession, returned to solid commercial growth and restored jobs lost in the crisis. Obama took credit for all this much more robustly than many had expected. His speech — in its content and in the president’s bearing — was a demonstration of political power with no doubts about its methods and goals.
“… [T]he verdict is clear,” said Obama of his conviction that his economic formulas work.
We also knew beforehand that the basic substance of Obama’s speech, looking forward, would be aid to America’s middle class. The president could hardly have spoken more clearly when he stated, “And let's close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. … We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy …”
New taxation of the wealthiest Americans, by which the president hopes to raise money to cover tax relief and free higher education for the middle and lower tiers, he calls a “fair shot” for every American to profit from the economic prosperity of the whole country.
Only Republicans see in this a redistribution of wealth that goes against the principles of American society. And that is precisely why the last of the aforementioned attributes is most valid of all. It was an all-out “partisan” speech whose key proposals don’t stand a chance of getting through a Republican-dominated Congress.
The nighttime State of the Union address was more a report on a self-confident president who has decided to predetermine the agenda of 2016’s White House contest. He will not run any more himself, but the very question of how to ensure that America’s great economic and social wealth is shared among society’s layers will be one of the key issues.
Obama and his Democrats have already laid out their vision; now it’s up to Republicans to lay out their own. Hold onto your hats: The 2016 campaign has just begun.