Calling for unity from a newly divided government, the U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday night asked Democratic and Republican lawmakers to rally behind his vision of economic revival for an anxious nation, declaring in his State of the Union 2011 address: “We will move forward together or not at all.”
“The challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world,” said the President.
With a television audience in the millions watching, Obama addressed a Congress sobered by the assassination attempt against one if its own, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her seat was empty, and many lawmakers of competing parties sat together in a show of civility. Yet differences were still evident, as when Democrats stood to applaud Obama’s comments on his health care law, while Republicans sat mute next to them.
In one of his best opportunities of the year to connect with the country, Obama focused mostly on the economy, the top issue for a nation still reeling from a monster recession – and the one that will shape his own political fortunes in the 2012 election.
But his main proposals were somewhat contradictory. Obama called for a burst of spending on education, research, technology and transportation to make the nation more competitive, at the same time that he pledged to cut the deficit and reduce wasteful spending.
Mr. Obama said the nation needs to address its rising budget deficit but couldn’t afford to back away from new spending on programs that he said would allow the U.S. to compete with rising powers like China and India—an approach Republicans were quick to reject as unaffordable. Mr. Obama also laid out areas of potential cooperation between the parties, such as a call to rewrite the corporate tax code.
The president answered Republican calls for steep budget cuts with a far more modest proposal to freeze a portion of government spending for five years. The bulk of his speech had larger aims: to recapture the policy initiative after his party’s devastating losses in November and to inspire a nation worried about its place in a sometimes threatening global economy.
“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Mr. Obama said in tones that resembled a halftime pep talk. “We have to make America the best place on earth to do business.”
[via The Telegraph (UK), NY Times, Washington Post and Huff Post]