Early Wednesday morning, on the special stage where each year the State of the Union address is given, Barack Obama projected the image of a president of the United States that has redoubled his initiative, ready to face his remaining two years in office as a politician who will not just wait in the White House to see how his successor comes in. It’s another thing whether he lives up to it.
Facing a Congress that is in the hands of his Republican opponents, Obama respectfully, as is his habit, sought to distance himself as much as possible from the image of a “sitting duck” that has nothing more to accomplish and spoke directly — also his habit — to the middle class. ”We are turning the page,” he announced, referring to the recovery after the crisis. The big statistics support him: Unemployment is at 5.6 percent and the economy grew 5 percent in the last quarter of 2014. But it is no less true that a part of the middle class doesn’t see in their everyday lives the improvement reflected in these statistics. The wave of the crisis, with its destruction of jobs and loss of purchasing power in depressed areas and sectors in bankruptcy, has left a mark from which it will take some time to recover.
One of the risks facing U.S. society is the growing disparity between those who have been able to ride out the crisis and those who, after having suffered through it, aren’t capable of getting on the recovery train: those who cannot turn the page. For this reason, Obama used the word ”inequality” as one of the keywords of his speech.
But it will be difficult for the president to go ahead with measures such as increasing taxes on the wealthy — among other things, to allow fiscal relief to the middle class —, raising the minimum wage and making education more accessible. Congress is openly hostile to the White House and the Republican Party is immersed in its own pre-electoral campaign in which any concession to a Democratic president with a history of being unpopular could ruin ambitious political careers.
Obama is perfectly conscious of his situation: what he is doing by proposing measures that are impossible for this Congress to deal with is fixing the terms of the next Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016, when the Democrats will attempt to keep the White House and totally or partially recover Congress. With the economic battles established on the horizon, international issues — about which there is not much to brag — stayed in the background. The word Iraq was spoken only twice, for example.
In this address, Barack Obama has lived the most “Reagan” moment of his presidency. He wants to convince his fellow Americans that the country has changed decisively, that it has moved past the crisis and that it is at last on the right path. What many Americans are hoping now is that his words become true for them personally.