President Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union: All Promises and Hints; Few Results

–Richard E. Vatz

    Talk about mirror-image addresses: President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech and the response by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio were the pinnacle of such opposites.  The President’s was one of the most excellently delivered speeches I have ever heard: near-perfect in his elocution, with flawless pausing for effect, appropriate and compelling emphases, and general audience adaptation.  It was peerless.  But it was, as always, filled with promise and failure-guaranteed solutions with a few simply unarticulated reasons to anticipate success. 

      Sen. Rubio’s response, coming from what must have been a well-protected site in a witness protection program, was sterile, dead-sounding and embarrassing: he was alone in a spare room, as if he were hiding out from authorities.  He only had the water of the usual bread-and-water diet, and that water he fetched during his speech was so far away that he should have said “Timeout!” before fetching it.  But his message was sound: no plan to grow the government even more should have the expectation of solving the country’s problems; the unaddressed debt problem is an unmet threat that continues to worsen (nothing, of course,  about seriously cutting net spending in the SOTU and, again, nothing about cutting the big three: Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security); raising taxes more and more isn’t the answer; and tough individualism works, while collectivism fails. 
     The President was all promise and few fruits of promise after four years-plus on the job.
     On the economy and domestic issues, he supported the old “laundry list:” jobs back to America, climate change expenditures, fixing infrastructure, and making high school education more job-related, immigration reform – path to citizenship, while making borders secure, raising the minimum wage, and enhancing the right to vote (by which he appeared to mean supporting even earlier voting which could spare many citizens the arduous chore of following a political campaign until its conclusion).
     On foreign policy, the President said vaguely we shall keep “pressure on [the] Syria regime,” but even progressives [see Richard Cohen in The Washington Post] have accused Mr. Obama of abdicating leadership, such as ignoring the problems in Syria, wherein there have been about 500,000 thousand refugees and 70,000 deaths.  The President claims his efforts in counterterrorism have been “transparent to the American people and to the world,” but he ignores the dereliction of his role as Commander-in-Chief in Benghazi.

      On North Korea Mr. Obama says, pursuant to their testing a nuclear device, that we shall isolate them further.  How has that worked out?

     On Iran he says, “We shall do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”  That’s good, but what is the interim outcome of our efforts — what have we achieved thus far?   We’re removing troops from Afghanistan and will have completed such by the end of next year.  How do we know that Afghanistan will be stable?  Is Iraq now stable?  Success is not just removing troops; success is leaving a stable state in place. 

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     The President intends to forge gun control.  What reason does his speech give to
make us infer that there will be less violence and fewer killings if his program is

     What we heard was near-demagoguery on the claim that Gabby Giffords and Hadiya Pendleton, both victims of violence, the latter a Chicagoan fatality, “deserve a vote!”
To do what?  To enact what policy that would have protected them, how?
     Mr. Obama’s Second Inaugural showed him to be the anti-JFK and anti-Reagan:
 government in all spheres is the answer.
     It is the second term.  The State of the Union should have more
accomplishments and fewer promises.  Maybe by the end of this term policies
will have worked. 

     After all, the President did say, “We can get this done.”

     When, Mr. President?  How, Mr. President?
     You need to tell us what has already worked.
                   Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric and communication at Towson University.  He is the author of The only Authentic Book of Persuasion, Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013.


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