When President Barack Obama took the podium to give his third State of the Union address on Tuesday Jan. 24, he demonstrated a rhetorical dexterity which cannot be anything but admired. Throughout his speech, Obama simultaneously and separately was talking directly to the American people watching at home and the members of Congress in the House chamber.
On one level, Obama's speech carried a powerful populist message that is sure to resonate with many American voters. While he never actually referenced it directly, he seemed to tap into the principles of the Occupy movement in his demands for the ends of the Bush Tax Cuts and better rules so that those at the top – including the President – can't get away with paying lower tax rates than those in the middle class.
The majority of the speech, though, was dedicated to talking about jobs: how many had been lost, how many have been created, and how more will be added in coming months.
Unlike most political speeches, Obama's Address actually had a good amount of policy substance in addition to the rhetoric of his words.
After hearing about Obama's specific plan to restructure tax incentives to bring jobs back home from overseas, to invest in community training programs, to create a trade enforcement agency, to start a minimum tax on multi-national corporations, to open up public land for green energy projects that will be able to power three million homes, and his executive order to clear away the red tape keeping construction projects from getting started, one would be hard-pressed to say that Obama's speech was all rhetoric.
These specific proposals came alongside bold, direct challenges to Congress. At least five separate times, Obama iterated some version of the phrase, "Put the bill on my desk and I will sign it." He directly challenged Congress to end obstrunctionist practices and pass "common sense" legislation like the payroll tax cut, putting the burden of Washington's dysfunction on an the legislature – an important political move in an election year.
While Obama missed the mark on the deficit, which he did not adequately address, and higher education funding, which he evidently doesn't understand, we strongly endorse most of the substantive content of his policies and applaud his challenges to what has been an unreasonably obstructive Congress.
The best moments of the speech, however, were its conclusion, in which Obama alluded to the mission he authorized in Pakistan which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"We could learn a thing or two from the men and women in our armed forces," he said. After all, as the president said, republican or democrat, all that matters when you're climbing stairs into the darkness of bin Laden's hideout, you need to know that the person behind you has your back.
And that's what America is about; that's why the speech is called the State of the Union, after all.