State of the Union address indicates shift to second-term progressivism

President Barack Obama opened his fifth State of the Union address delivered on Feb. 12 imploring Congress and voters to seek bipartisan action, calling to put the “nation’s interest before party.” Yet the reality of his address painted a different picture. The policies that lay at the heart of his speech were markedly liberal ones – proposals that seem to abandon the cautious nature that bogged down his first term as president. Obama’s speech seemed to be a rally for the Democratic Party, and it’s about time.

This was a State of the Union address that could have only come at the start of a second term. It was clear watching the president that he no longer has to worry about re-election and wished to assert an agenda he’s been holding back on since his first inaugural address. 

Though he spoke of the two parties being “partners in progress” rather than rivals, the fundamentals of his speech adhered to a liberal agenda. Many of the proposals came with a boldness that Obama would not have dared in his first term, which was riddled with failures of compromise and a gun-shyness in the face of a true progressive agenda. 

The speech, which focused primarily on domestic agenda, had three pillars. The first was Obama’s call for a serious acknowledgement of climate change. 

“Believe in the overwhelming judgment of science,” he said. He advocated for new energies like solar and wind, and called for a “level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.” 

While Obama’s speech also included a misguided proposal for easier access to oil and gas permits, it was promising for Obama to come out so strongly in the name of science. It’s criminal that it has taken this long, but in a climate where politicians refuse to take a stand one way or the other, it is refreshing for the president to take a definitive stance.

Obama’s second major proposal was universal pre-kindergarten education in the United States. The benefits of pre-K education are inarguable, and when Obama claimed, “every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on,” that was just the beginning. Early education leads to lower incarceration rates and teen pregnancies, and the Carolina Abecedarian Project found that 36 percent of participants in early education programs go on to college, as opposed to just 14 percent of those not in pre-K programs.

The one thing missing was how exactly the U.S. would pay for a universal early education program. Systems currently exist on a state-by-state basis, but a federal program would cost a considerable amount. Still, Obama denounced a government shackled to deficit reduction as the end-all-be-all, so perhaps a program like this may actually get off the ground.

Perhaps the boldest of all of Obama’s proposals was his call to raise the national minimum wage to $9. This would raise wages in every state but Washington, most by nearly $2. It would ensure that a family with two working parents would be able to live above the poverty line – though the president did not address the significant failures of poverty measurements to begin with. Still, a call for the minimum wage was a step forward to economic equality and is the clearest evidence of a president unafraid to make politically abrasive proposals. 

Obama’s fifth State of the Union came as a clear announcement of his second term, a term that hopes to be unbridled in the face of divided government. Though he claimed he was “open to additional reforms from both parties,” it’s clear the president is moving, finally, to the left.