President Obama gave his State of the Union address yesterday, in a wide-ranging speech that was generally well received – including some measures that generated rare bipartisan support.
The New York Times was strongly behind the president, writing in an editorial:
The country’s problems are profound.
There are 13.1 million unemployed, and the risk of stagnation is real. Republican candidates are pounding on the wrong, but seductive, notion that the real problem is government spending - especially on the “others,” the poor and minorities. Congressional Republicans have barely wavered in their obstructionism.
Mr. Obama has become steadily more assertive, but he will have to push even harder. The State of the Union address was a chance to do that, and he did not squander it.
They were especially supportive of his rhetoric on the financial sector:
Mr Obama has pushed banks and Congress to make it easier for borrowers who are current in their payments to refinance. On Tuesday night, he called - finally - for a full investigation of the lending abuses that inflated the bubble and led to the crash. That is the best hope for getting meaningful redress for borrowers.
The Washington Post was also encouraged. Although their reaction was more tempered, they were in favour of many of his proposals, especially his elaboration of the ‘Buffet rule’,
Billionaire Warren Buffett’s position that he should not pay a smaller share of his income in taxes than his secretary’s; she was in attendance in the first lady’s box. Mr Obama announced that not only billionaires but all those earning $1 million or more a year should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. Think of this as a new version of the alternative minimum tax.
This position sets up a politically useful contrast between Mr Obama and Mr Romney. It is not a fleshed-out proposal that the administration expects, for example, to produce as a line item in the forthcoming budget. Administration officials could not tell us how much revenue such a change would produce.
But Mr. Obama is right to take on the unlevel and distorting playing field of a code that taxes ordinary earned income at a much higher rate than investment income.
Stan Greenberg, of GQR research, pointed out that the whole Buffett discussion gained high levels support from all the viewers they were polling, regardless of their party. He called the unity of response “pretty stunning”.
Indeed, the whole address was apparently an attempt to take the Republicans’ lunch from under their noses.
Like the Post, Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo also saw the speech as a direct response to Mitt Romney, the man Obama’s office still see as the likely GOP nominee:
His speech was peppered with the sorts of proposals that play well across the country. But after executing a three year plan of partisan opposition to his full agenda, Republicans can’t possibly support them — and that puts them on the steep side of an election Obama is framing while Republican presidential hopefuls tear each other down.
It was also sharp-elbowed. It read in a way as a series of critiques of the GOP’s most prominent rhetorical attacks on Democratic priorities, and as a piecemeal rebuttal of the talking points his most likely general election opponent Mitt Romney has levied against him in a bid to shore up support among Republican base voters…
“This election’s going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
That’s the battle for public perception that will play out over the next several months — between Obama’s calls for fairness and Republican reminders of people’s current woes, implicitly Obama’s fault they’ll say.
If Republicans lose that battle they’ll find themselves flailing in the general election with nothing forward looking to offer voters.
That’s the bet Obama made tonight.
At least one person disagreed with the consensus, however.
Speaking from Florida, Mitt Romney delivered his opinion:
“Tonight will mark another chapter in the misguided policies of the last three years - and the failed leadership of one man.”
• Sign up to our new weekly email on US 2012 and election news from across the globe, The World Outside Westminster
• MPs call for Romney’s tax haven to be closed – Shamik Das, January 23rd 2012
• The British Empire – subsidising Republican presidential candidates since 2007 – Daniel Elton, January 19th 2012
• Barack Obama’s 2012 – Tom Rouse, January 4th 2012
• Obama mocks the mad Right and makes the case for the State – Shamik Das, September 9th 2011