First and foremost I thought that this speech was what President Obama needed to do politically and ended up delivering a strong overall speech that will probably give him a slight boost in the polls. I don't like to dwell on or get lost in the political accomplishments of the speech because I think it can dilute from the overall substance of what was said.
On substance, Obama had a lot to tackle and if you missed the speech, you can read it here. Obama talked about a top priority of creating jobs in 2010:
We should start where most new jobs do - in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.
Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.
So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.
He went on to talk about energy, the climate and the need to make America more innovative on a global scale. His remarks on Health Care were much much anticipated and here is a clip of what he had to say:
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office - the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress - our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them.
But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
and frankly, there was not much more on the topic of health care reform than that. Obama simply put out a call for those in Congress to pass the reforms because they had come too far already. This really leaves us no closer to actually making Congress fix the current version of the bill and Obama did not mention anything about putting things like the public option back into the bill.
A couple of other notable moments from the speech:
1. Obama called for the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. This is certainly overdue and I know that many gay activists were very happy that Obama explicitly referenced this during the speech.
2. Obama chided the recent Supreme Court decision that will end up allowing a tidal wave of corporate money into political campaigns. The interesting part came when Justice Sam Alito reacted and verbally responded (what looked like and what is being reported as) "That's not true". Watch:
This is notable because the Supreme Court is usually silent and expressionless during the State of the Union, even refraining from clapping when the President enters so as to continue to express impartiality. Many have already stated that this is Alito's "You Lie" moment.
3. Obama explicitly stated that troops would begin to come home from Afghanistan in July 2011 and that "all combat troops" will be out of Iraq by August 2010. Earlier this week I highlighted the confusion within the Obama Administration surrounding his Afghanistan policy and while Obama reiterated this date, he failed to lay out any specifics regarding an exit strategy or whether this withdrawal is condition-based. More is needed on this topic from the Administration.
4. Obama addressed the partisanship that has plagued his first year in office, at times sounding like a high school principal. For me, the best line during this portion of the speech was:
To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.
Nice thought right? Something tells me that tomorrow is going to be the same.
These are my very raw and very rough reactions to the speech and there will be much further discussion on this over the next few days and weeks. Check back for more insight and analysis.
UPDATE: One more item that just came to mind was Obama seemingly denouncing the brand of conservatism that we saw under the Bush Administration:
From some on the right, I expect we'll hear a different argument - that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that's what we did for eight years. That's what helped lead us into this crisis. It's what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.
I think this was important, but it makes me wonder why he is validating Republican views by calling for a spending freeze if he is so critical of what got us into this mess in the first place.