Obama’s speech: sweeping but vague

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Eric Sorensen

U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address did what such speeches are intended to do: touch on the issues of greatest importance to the greatest number of people. And as Bill Clinton’s advisers once observed during a less tumultuous time: it’s the economy, stupid. Obama struck a balance — acknowledging the deep economic problems in the country while inspiring Americans to believe this country can “win the future.”

The speech was like its predecessors in another way: it was sweeping and vague all at once. Not that there weren’t proposals and promises, but there were few details. In that way, it resembled a Speech from the Throne in Canada ― a broad blueprint, but no dollar figures. Of course, that makes the speech easy to embrace (yay, government investments) and easy to attack (boo, government investments). Neither side has the figures with which to buttress their arguments.

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One way the SOTU is not like a Throne Speech is the level of gushing enthusiasm and love of a country that is expressed in the State of the Union. Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Reagan – they were all good at that. Americans do genuinely believe they are exceptional. The only Canadian leader in the last generation who could speak from the heart on the national stage about his love of country – and not make normally reserved Canadians a little uncomfortable with it – was Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

But even Jean Chretien had to sit mute for the Throne Speech, which is always delivered by Governor Generals, who seems to take their cue on presentation style from the monarch they represent. Proper, but not exhilarating.

Obama’s speech was like a national pep talk. Persuade Americans better days lie ahead; make them feel good about themselves, their country and, of course, their president.

It was very different from George W. Bush’s speeches in content. “W” had to respond to the 9/11 attacks, and by following that up with the Iraq invasion, Bush ensured global security would be a major theme in virtually every State of the Union speech.

Obama, by one calculation, devoted just 13 per cent of his SOTU speech to international affairs, reflecting the fact that the crisis Obama faced early in his administration was economic, while the Bush era was defined by the events on 9/11.

U.S. President Barack Obama; photo by Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images

As strong as Obama’s speech was Tuesday night, it may have suffered slightly coming on the heels of the speech he gave in Tucson, Arizona after the shooting. We had just seen him speak one week ago at length. And that address was so moving that it was hard for his State of the Union to tug at the heartstrings in the same way.

I did think Obama might seize upon the Tucson tragedy to call for even modest changes regarding the accessibility of high powered guns and ammunition. He didn’t, which was a disappointment to gun control advocates. Had he done so, it might have garnered headlines the next day…and controversy. Which may explain why he didn’t touch it. As they say in politics, don’t step on your own message. And the Optimist-in-Chief’s message was that he is focused on creating jobs and winning the future.

After more than two years in the economic doldrums, it’s what Americans wanted to hear.

Eric is Global National’s Washington bureau chief.

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