President Obama delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term Feb. 12, during which he emphasized a strong middle class as the engine of future economic growth.
Obama stressed that smarter government would be more effective than bigger government in repairing debt and unemployment, and promised to invest in clean energy, education and manufacturing without raising the deficit. Obama’s speech set an optimistic tone, predicting bipartisan cooperation and forward-looking initiatives.
The President opened with an allusion to John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address 51 years ago, which reached across the partisan line.
“The Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress,” he said. “It is my task to report the State of the Union, to improve it is the task of us all.”
The United States is more than halfway towards its goal of reducing the deficit by $4.5 trillion. The country will finish the job by making modest reforms to Medicare, eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy and refusing to cut entitlement programs, he said.
While bipartisan tax reform is vital, Obama maintained that it would not be the only method of change in his second term.
“Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” he said.
The President contended that creating an attractive market for jobs and industry should be the country’s first priority. He proposed reducing job outsourcing and bringing manufacturing back to America, and suggested the minimum wage correlate with the cost of living, effectively lifting full time workers above the poverty line. Stronger families are the impetus to progress and foreign power, he said.
But the best ideas must accompany the best products in the job market, he said. The race to combat climate change and prioritize renewable energy sources should be met with the same vigor as the Space Race in the forties, Obama said.
In order to prove that the U.S. is the best place to do business, the President said it’s imperative to attract private capital to upgrade our technology and put people to work on urgent repairs such as structurally deficient bridges.
The President then transitioned to education and immigration, which he claims are the next steps in job reform and economic stability. He proposed a new challenge to redesign high schools to better equip graduates in the fields of engineering and science. He also urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which would strengthen border security and require background checks.
Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Obama promised the return of all American troops by the end of 2014. For a safe future abroad, he claimed that an agreement was in the works for training and equipping Afghan forces as well as combating terrorism abroad.
“We don’t need to occupy other nations,” he said. “Instead, we need to help countries provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists.”
Continuing to discuss foreign policy, Obama criticized North Korea and Iran for harnessing the power of nuclear weapons, demanding adiplomatic agreement with the coalition of countries that stands against their efforts. He also said that the United States will maintain a steadfast relationship with Isreal, fight for an AIDS-free generation and support transatlantic trade and partnership.
Obama then addressed the issue of gun control to the crowd, some of whom wore green ribbons to acknowledge the recent elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. He suggested background checks, laws to prevent the reselling of guns to criminals and the removal of weapons of war and ammunition magazines.
In his call for stricter gun control laws, the President alluded to 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed from gang violence crossfire in a Chicago park after coming home from the inaugural parade. He said that Pendleton’s family, and the families of Oak Creek, Tuscon, Blacksburg, Newtown and Aurora, deserved a vote in Congress on gun control.
Desiline Victor, a 102 year old from North Miami, received a standing ovation for her inspiring story at the voting polls this past election.
“When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours,” Obama said of Victor. “Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her, and erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.’”
Obama concluded his speech by holding to the idea that although we are different in career choices and ideologies, we all hold the same title of “citizen.” This title, he said, affirms the idea that we share rights and obligations with the future generations of America.
“It remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story,” Obama said.