By Munir Atalla
On Tuesday, January 24, President Obama took the podium to deliver his final State of the Union address before the upcoming election. The president used his prime-time spot in front of America as a veritable kick-off for his re-election campaign, highlighting his accomplishments and outlining how he plans to keep America marching forward. While some might say that America is in its autumn, the president claims to be an unshaken believer in American spirit, values, and manufacturing.
“Anyone who tells you that America is in decline, or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” boomed the familiar voice from behind the microphone. This line inspired a standing ovation from attending politicians—the same leaders we’ve come to trust less and less. Americans have learned the hard way that talk is cheap and hype is transient.
Three years ago, Obama promised change to an enamored and hopeful American public, who viewed him as more than just another politician. But an incumbent president can’t run on the promise of change. No longer America’s sweetheart, Obama now addresses a disenchanted populace, an America that has suffered three years worth of consequences for the policies and politics of the past. The real question this coming election brings is, “Does Obama’s magic still work on the jaded hearts of post-recession Americans?”
In a Steve Jobs-inspired presentation with accompanying visuals, Obama talked his citizens through his blueprint for “an America built to last.” As usual, the president spoke beautifully. The strong point of his address was the eloquent way he framed his policies. Obama made it clear that he is not out to attack the rich but merely feels that an America where Warren Buffet’s secretary pays a higher tax rate than her billionaire employer is not an equitable place to live. Everyone needs to start playing by the same rules: “No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.” This time around, Obama is doing what he can to instate a liberal agenda.
At certain points during his speech, it was hard not to feel a familiar buzz similar to the one felt years ago in Obama’s early election days. This time, however, the thrill was noticeably ephemeral. Many students reported that they tuned in for the first part of the address, only to tune out once they had gotten the gist of it. They are tired of the seeming charade. It’s clear that the problem for Obama is not reaching the liberals who supported him last election; it’s reaching those who have given up on Washington politics altogether, a demographic composed mostly of youth. At a time when many Americans are questioning their belief in government altogether, the president will have to thoroughly accompany his promises with concrete actions.
It may look grim, but Obama’s saving grace is—and has always been—that he gets it. He knows that, however ominous the budget deficit is, there is an even more important deficit of trust between Washington and the rest of America that must also be repaid. Obama even turned the magnifying glass on the executive branch, which he believes is often “inefficient, outdated, and remote.” The president explicitly asked Congress to grant him the power to consolidate federal bureaucracy. He is giving banks the chance to revitalize by sending Congress “a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” He is also monitoring Wall Street by establishing a Financial Crimes Unit to closely investigate corporate crime. He spoke about the corrosive effect of often-extreme party-on-party mudslinging. In short, he addressed most of the popular concerns that have surfaced in these past few months.
Right now, statistics are the only measures some people feel they can trust. The numbers give a cautiously optimistic account. A 2.8% fourth quarter increase in gross domestic product tells voters that the economy is slowly improving. But amongst forecasts of a double dip or a prolonged recession, slow and steady might be the best way to win the race. Obama gets that, too. As he himself said, “The state of our union is getting stronger, and we’ve come too far to turn back now.”