President Obama managed to pack a lot into his hour-long State of the Union address: economic growth; immigration; gun control; climate change, job creation; Medicare; education; infrastructure; a few astronomical references.
In this, his second State of the Union address, Obama was charged with calming the masses in the wake of the fiscal cliff saga, the ongoing global downturn, and – most recently – North Korea’s little nuclear experiment at Punggye-ri earlier this week, which has given all the world’s heads of state the jitters.
‘We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,’ he assured the gathered dignitaries. And now, the plan is to focus on reigniting ‘the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class’. This will be ‘the North star that guides our efforts,’ he declared.
Ultimately, however, Obama speech boiled down to two things: economic growth and job creation. These are his priorities, and override other pressing concerns like immigration or firearms, he said. Although, issues like the $1tn-worth of budget cuts that will automatically kick in this year were tiptoed around.
In order to help the US regain its status as the premier economic superpower, Obama plans to open talks with the European Union to launch what would be the world’s largest free trade zone. 'We will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union,' he said, 'because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.'
Indeed, given that two-way trade between the US and EU amounted to £412 billion ($646 billion) last year, a transatlantic pact could completely reinvigorate the global economy. Good news for the eurozone, and an added incentive for Blighty to remain in the EU (Cameron, take note).
Closer to home, Obama will also ensure pay equality between men and women (again, no hints as to how this will be achieved). He will close the tax loopholes that allow the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer and thus restore ‘the basic bargain’ on which the US way of life is built: helping ordinary Americans to prosper, not just the privileged few. ‘No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty,’ he said.
Obama has promised that his second term as President will give rise to a government that ‘encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.’ Breathe new life into the American Dream, in other words.
Big words, but did the President have enough oil to pour over the US’ deeply troubled waters? All in all, the address seemed more an exercise in diplomacy than genuine policy reform. He’ll have to add a bit more meat to these bones before his promises are taken seriously.