Wednesday, April 1, 2009

President Obama's State of the Union Address

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 5th in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau
Last Wednesday at 3:15 in the morning I found myself doing something I can not recall ever doing before. It took me a moment to realize that I had actually started to clap at the end of an hour long speech I had just listened to on the telly. Sure, I’ve clapped, along with other members of the audience, at the end of other speeches I have heard, but not when I’m sitting alone in front of the television. When I realized what I was doing I immediately stopped myself and wondered; “Why on earth am I clapping at my TV?”
Well I guess the answer is that I must have been pretty impressed by President Barak Obama’s first speech to a Joint Session of Congress, which is the traditional first term President’s equivalent to the State of the Union address. When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation again at this same time next year, this speech will be called Obama’s first State of the Union address because only a President who has been in office during the previous year is entitled to deliver a State of the Union speech.
But even though this speech wasn’t actually a State of the Union address, it was still treated like one since it was broadcast nationally by all ten of the major television networks in America. In fact President Obama’s speech was watched by viewers in more than 37 million US homes, the third largest TV audience to ever watch a State of the Union address and here in Ireland I was able to watch the speech broadcast live by the BBC, SkyNews and France 24. This unprecedented interest in President Obama’s first major speech after his inauguration only a month earlier underscores both the American and worldwide interest in President Obama’s plan to deal with the economic recession.
Neither I nor my parents were alive when Franklin Roosevelt, only eight days into his first term as President, delivered the first of his famous and reassuring fireside chats to an American public reeling from the devastating effects of a worldwide depression. Then as now America and the rest of the world were anxiously hoping for bold and effective economic leadership. While it remains to be seen if Obama will be as effective as Franklin Roosevelt, last Wednesday night I think President Obama delivered the kind of message that Americans and citizens of other nations were so desperately hungry for.
Instead of being lofty and inspirational like his presidential campaign speeches, I characterized President Obama’s inaugural address as being a very sober and serious speech. That’s because President Obama was preparing Americans for a long and nasty recession while simultaneously reassuring citizens in America and around the world that we would eventually overcome the many challenges we are currently confronting. I felt the tenor of his inaugural address was quite appropriate given the rather dire economic conditions America and the world was facing on the day he became our 44th President.
Last Wednesday night President Obama’s hour long speech added some layers of detail that were missing from his relatively brief 18 minute inaugural address. In his inaugural address President Obama had also challenged those “who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans”. One month later, having already achieved the passage of his top priority, the $800 billion economic stimulus bill, President Obama proceeded to lay out his other “big” plans for improving education, creating jobs through investments in rebuilding America’s infrastructure and developing energy independence.
President Obama also outlined his plans for reforming Medicare and Social Security in order to set the stage for implementing a universal healthcare program health care and an upcoming federal budget that doesn’t hide things like the cost of the Iraq war as well as his plans to help beleaguered US homeowners. Having spent the weeks following his inauguration using a pessimistic tone to apply pressure to Congress to pass his stimulus plan, President Obama used more optimistic language in this latest speech detailing his plans while also promising that America “will emerge stronger than before.”
He acknowledged Americans anger towards Wall Street but also reminded them that many of them had also played a role by using credit recklessly and spending beyond their means. Obama then sought to convince viewers that the only way to avoid making the current economic crisis worse may be to commit more taxpayer money to cleaning up Wall streets financial mess. He cautioned Americans about opposing this idea saying that “we cannot afford to govern out of anger or yield to the politics of the moment.” Obama went on to say that “it’s not about helping banks, it’s about helping people.” He made the case that America and the world faced a decade of hard times unless we acted to stabilize the banking system so banks could begin lending so we could buy cars and homes again.
President Obama also continued to refrain from using partisan rhetoric during his speech and instead encouraged Republicans to take the “carrot” he was offering and rise above partisan politics and try work with him in developing bipartisan solutions for the many problems the country faces. But Obama also showed his Republican opponents the “stick” by giving his audience a powerful critique of the policies of the past 8 years which led up to the crisis which he and his administration had just “inherited.”
I thought President Obama did an excellent job of making the case for using the current economic crisis to make far reaching changes and reforms in the areas of healthcare, education and energy independence by creating “opportunity from ordeal.” President Obama closed his speech by reminding Americans that the world was watching saying “As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us, watching to see what we do with this moment, waiting for us to lead.” Well one thing’s for sure, Obama is leading.

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