State of the Union Recap: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


After a resounding electoral victory and an unabashedly progressive second inaugural address, President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address. Prior to Tuesday evening's event, speculation swirled and anticipation was palpable for an address some expected to be stridently partisan, especially considering Obama's implicit endorsement for liberalism last month. 

And he did not disappoint. Obama vindicated claims of recent leftward reorientation by broadening his quest for sweeping social and economic reforms in a strong rhetorical and thematic speech, though substantively it was somewhat familiar: he sounded many of the same refrains he has been touting since the beginning of the reelection campaign, if not earlier. But viewers' familiarity with his general points does not diminish the fundamental ambitiousness Obama displayed tonight in his most visionary speech since 2009, which in many respects was reminiscent of those delivered by 20th century liberal champions John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Without further adieu, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly from Obama's address: 

The Good

Among several positives — a modest reversion to "Audacity of Hope"-style rhetoric calling for unity and bipartisanship, announcing further troop withdrawals, and an emotionally charged re-appeal for common sense gun control — supreme was Obama's success in synthesizing disparate policies and applying them to the umbrella goal of economic prosperity.

For the past several years, President Obama touted a seemingly disjointed, unrelated set of policies and programs designed to mitigate distinct but connected economic and social ills, from the American Jobs Act to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, deficit reduction to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the goals Obama outlined Tuesday were not presented as isolated, independent ideas but as equally important constituent elements of the larger goal of true economic growth. Virtually every proposal returned to the night's central theme: jobs. He linked the need for comprehensive immigration reform, investing in the nation's infrastructure, and embracing Simpson-Bowles to creating new American jobs. It was a welcome respite from the adamant deficit focus that characterized the last two years.

The Bad

Per usual, Obama pushed the broader goals but neglected to highlight specific steps he would take to realize those goals. For example, a potentially lucrative and widely appealing private-public investment partnership got one tantalizing mention — with no requisite specificity. Similarly, he advocated raising the federal minimum wage to $9.00 — but failed to address how this would not add "one dime" to our deficit. The consequences of our sausage factory political system, perhaps.

With the GOP controlling the House and a constant threat of a Senate filibuster, unspecific and blatantly liberal proposals, such as gun control and immigration reform, are unlikely to come to fruition or significantly change momentum. Obama is either naively hoping for major internal philosophical and existential GOP transformations or banking on some substantial congressional victories in 2014 — assuming he can circumvent the proverbial six-year itch.

The Ugly

Obama reserved his ambition to the domestic policy sphere; unfortunately, he scarcely emphasized foreign policy issues. During an extremely dangerous, uncertain global epoch during which he never realistically crafted an active or coherent foreign policy doctrine to guide his administration abroad, Obama offered only superficial reassurances regarding some of the nation's most intractable foreign policy concerns. Even after a deadly terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, continued upheaval in such locales as Syria and Egypt, and a recent North Korean nuclear weapons test, Obama spoke idealistic platitudes of containment and cooperation without outlining specific strategies or feasible goals.

And drones got only an indirect mention.