Debate Forum Topic 02/02/11

A Review of the Obama State of the Union Speech

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, states that the president “… shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While it is not required to be a speech, every president since Woodrow Wilson has made the State of the Union report as a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress. Prior to President Wilson,  most presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report.

What began as an annual communication between president and Congress has become a communication between the president and the people of the United States. With great pomp and circumstance, the speech is now broadcast live on most networks, preempting scheduled programming. In his address, the president not only reports on the condition of the nation, but he is also able to outline his legislative agenda that he hopes to persuade Congress to adopt. He also uses the occasion to set forth his national priorities. All of this, his analyses, his legislative goals and his priorities for the country, he must accomplish within about an hour. He is also expected to deliver the speech in a way which uplifts the nation and inspires its citizens. It’s a tall order for any president. This year’s speech had the additional challenge of the pall of the shooting of Congresswomen Giffords hanging over Congress.

President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech last week against a backdrop of last November’s election losses by his Democrat party. Voters made it very clear in November that they are very concerned that government spending  has gotten out of control.  In the nation’s capital and in state capitals across the country, there is  momentum towards slashing budgets and shrinking government. Acknowledging this national mood to cut spending, the president walked a tightrope in his speech agreeing that while cuts were needed, the politics of reckless austerity would amount to surrender to China and India who are investing while Americans are cutting. Instead, the president urged further investment in the areas of biomedical research, information technology, our infrastructure and especially clean-energy technology. President Obama repeatedly declared the imperative to “win the future,” comparing the current need for innovation to the space race against the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s.

The Republican response was delivered by Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who will be Speaker of the House John Boehner’s point man on the upcoming budget battle. Ryan’s analysis: Federal spending is out of control and if nothing is done, “the next generations will inherit a stagnant country and diminished economy.” President Obama might not be responsible for the “severe economic and fiscal situation” he confronted on taking office, but he “plunged us deeper into debt,” and his health care reform law “is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy.”

The aftermath of the president’s speech is still being debated. Normally, a president will get a several point bump in his polls following a successful SOTU. It looks as if President Obama did receive a slight bump that has now dissipated. His overall numbers have improved since November, leading some pundits to argue that Obama might yet get his way on his investment agenda. However, he still has some persuading to do. Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters now say cutting federal spending is better for the economy than increasing federal spending in these targeted areas. But 34% disagree and say increasing spending is better. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure.

Forum Question

What were the right and left reactions to President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week?

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