State of the Union: Obama tinkers around the edges

 
President Barack Obama delivers the 2014 State of the Union address This was Mr Obama's last best chance to reset his presidency - and it is unclear he managed a major shift

Tonight, President Barack Obama promised a "year of action".

But if this speech is any guide, it should more accurately be called a "year of quite small, tinkering around the edges, do what I can it in a very difficult environment, and, oh and by the way, my time is running out, actions".

Gone is the audacity of hope. This State of the Union address didn't promise big changes on anything - there was no transformation on offer here. This was Mr Obama in realist mode with a workmanlike State of the Union address.

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Americans are in the mood for solutions, not rhetoric. They know that Washington is deeply divided and big legislation on anything is unlikely, so what they want to know is what the president can actually do to help their daily lives, given that political reality.

So Mr Obama largely ignored his opponents in Congress, he barely mentioned the Republican Party by name. He wasn't rude to them, indeed he tried to stay deliberately optimistic for much of the speech.

It was more that he was speaking over Republican lawmakers' heads and going directly to the American public.

The mood was summed up early on: "America doesn't stand still - and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunities for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

As the veteran reporters I was watching with put it, it was a bit like watching two divorced parents who are co-parenting and barely acknowledge the other's existence.

Graphic
Last, best change

Economists and fact checkers will tell us how much of what Mr Obama suggested he can do alone, he actually can do alone.

But this address had the virtue at least of touching on bread-and-butter issues that genuinely affect millions of Americans - savings plans for workers who don't have them, health insurance, training schemes and the minimum wage, just to name a few.

For poorer Americans improvements in any of those would make a huge difference.

There was very little foreign policy here and it came at the end of the hour-long address. But Mr Obama did make some news in telling Congress he would veto any new sanctions bill against Iran.

But here too, the tone of the speech was somehow smaller. The emphasis was on American diplomacy not American intervention. What Mr Obama wants to do abroad he will do it by talking - not with troops.

This was Mr Obama's last best chance to reset his presidency. I'm not sure he managed a major shift - I don't see his approval ratings suddenly soaring tomorrow as a result of what he said tonight.

But he showed where his focus is and made a compelling case for at least trying to improve social mobility - with or without Congress.

 
Katty Kay, BBC World News Article written by Katty Kay Katty Kay Presenter, BBC World News

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    Re 66. Republican scaremongering results in higher budgets?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25933791 "Critics of the Obama administration say the spy chiefs have discredited themselves. Mr Clapper has been accused of making misstatements to Congress if not outright lying, as the Washington Post reported."
    And nuclear arsenal security: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25967081

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 67.

    Colonel_Flange @107
    "no simple answers
    (just) room to breathe"
    Privacy to enter Heaven or Hell?

    When 'the people' have been so divided, frightened & angered, made righteously mad, all-party external help is needed.

    East & West being ruled by Money, the example of equal partnership has been beyond us. The tide of violence advances: Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe. When will Money capitulate?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 66.

    63. typical GOP scaremongering! That dog won't hunt as Iran cannot deliver the distance - Iran can deliver to Israel and fellow Gulf states so that is the primary concern. Saudi will take delivery of nuclear weapons from Pakistan, paid for and awaiting delivery instructions, at the first hint of a nuclear bomb capability by Iran, and the Iranians know it!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 65.

    Little question that the NSA spying on Angel Merkel's cell phone was to try to find the key as to how Germany manages a budget surplus to GDP ratio when the rest of the world, especially the US, continue with deficits that are almost totally out of control!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24541140

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 64.

    61. Why Obama will veto an Iran strike was put best by chair, Feinstein: ' that the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk bill would "let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war." from: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4478640,00.html
    The GOP still cling to PNAC (simultaneous multiple theatre wars) as the solution to world terrorism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha1rEhovONU

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 63.

    Iran's nuclear weapons program is a direct threat to the security and people of the United States. If there is any nuclear attack on the US it will be assumed President Obama might have prevented it by acting pre-emptively against Iran, even if the source of attack is unknown. Impeachment will be the least of Obama's concerns. He's shown no moxie in dealing with America's enemies.We don't like it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 62.

    As the tea party/GOP have zero interest in anything that improves the situation of the average US worker: min wage, UI, single payer health care, they just yawned and will ignore or oppose again anything Obama attempts. The right stands for: expanded US for-profit jingoism (war with Syria and Iran), massive cuts to social programs: Medicare, Medicaid and SS and yet more tax cuts for the top 2%.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 61.

    "telling Congress he would veto any new sanctions..against Iran"

    It won't be an easy decision to make if there is overwhelming support for new sanctions.The slightest whiff Iran is cheating or hiding something will impel Congress to act

    "emphasis was on..diplomacy not..[military] intervention"

    He may have no choice if it comes down to US conventional action or Israeli nuclear strikes

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 60.

    The best news I've heard in awhile is how much spying the US government is doing. I do not feel even slightly threatened that everyone's metadata is being sifted through to see who is in contact with known terrorists in the US and abroad and I don't care if they find out what Angela Merckel is going to eat for dinner. I do mind that Google and others target me with ads based on my internet usage.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 59.

    I've given up watching and listening to these speeches. They're long winded often well over an hour. If anything important is said it will be all over the news for the following day or two. When a President has something really important to say he'll deliver a speech from the Oval Office and it usually lasts only a few minutes. If I miss that, it will also be on the news.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 58.

    11.
    The head of Walmart thinks it is clever that Walmart offers it's employees help in claiming state benefits. One of the US economy's biggest employers pays poverty wages and then wants the tax payer to make up the wage bill so the employees of Walmart do no starve and can afford the bus to get to work. The Republicans think this is acceptable? Obama is right, the closet fascists are wrong.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 57.

    coledata @53
    "republicans as masters
    democrats as workers"

    Trust in each other enabled only in agreed equal partnership

    Meanwhile, are there enough 'of independent thought' in the US for benefit from Direct Party and Representative voting (DPR)?

    http://www.dprvoting.org/System_Comparison.htm

    At least to minimize impact from extremist 'break-through' and rule by 'the casting vote'

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 56.

    Why didn't he mention his expanded drone programme. Ashamed to be the world's judge, jury and executioner?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 55.

    Nothing on when he is going to stop acting as world judge, jury and executioner with his much expanded drone programme thn. Such a surprise. Mass killings of wedding guests and other innocents is clearly an unimportant issue.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 54.

    coledata @53
    "just returned
    after 25 years"
    Approximately
    Or it matters not?
    All are on the radar?

    Point already registered. In a divided society, opposition - for good or ill - is everywhere, and 'error'. Fear of nuclear or IT snarl-up. Hope in an Ed Snowden, even in a presidency? In the Tower of Babel even one's own children, even finest lieutenants, one day may wake to blackmail or conscience.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 53.

    I have just returned after 25 years in the US. Republicans a rabid in their opinions, democrats are shipwrecked, looking for a lifebelt. The divide is so extreme that neither party can prevail. However, the US government is operated under a veil of secrecy, with republicans as the masters, and democrats as the workers. Any executive order Obama might make will be mismanaged until it has no value.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 52.

    Obama's account of the State of the Union responds to the apocryphal advice, probably worthless, for those Godless surprised by imminence of the Second Coming: "just look busy". He appears not to know his duty as leader to ensure 'education' is not just for war efforts against competitors, but for real democracy, in equal partnership. Instead of encouraging, he joins the chorus of the deferential.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    I had few expectations about Pres. Obama’s speech last night. Unfortunately he’s now become a beleaguered president whose otherwise lofty agenda has now been almost completely de-railed by a schizophrenically-divided Congress; the most radical of which believe that less government is better and, (by extrapolation), NO government is best. No expectations = No disappointments.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 50.

    @29 "the UK and the USA have a swathe of wannabe right wingers happy to compromise themselves financially by resolutely not voting for political parties offering improvements to their lives."

    Because we can see the strings that are attached to any such "bettering" mortgaging our children and grand children's futures while making ourselves more dependant on government and less self sufficient!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    Absolutely right that the State of the Union address was a little drab. Mr. Obama should have touched upon how he is going to get the Financial criminals of 2008 to justice, and bring back all the money those financial terrorists have swindled taking the world into recession and regulating Finance Industry. US has not learnt any Finance lessons from 2008 and is bound to crash. God Bless the World.

 

Page 1 of 4

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.