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.

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


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  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The Obama fan-boy "Its all the Republicans fault hes been a total failure" excuse is wearing a bit thin

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Sounds like a job for Jack Reacher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Some members of Congress take being wined, dined, and whatever by the interests as work, while performing few legislative functions. These 21st century welfare queens cashing government checks with extra zeroes can't be relied on to fulfill an agenda in the peoples' interest, anymore than they can be removed without an opponent with the peoples' vote.

    In the meantime, executive orders make sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    He's what's known as a "Lame duck" president, halfway through his last term, so with nothing to lose he could really let rip in his last S.O.U. address on the petty obstructionism of his opponents, willing to let huge numbers of ordinary workers be laid off without pay in order to score minor political points. No platitudes, tell it like it is Barack.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    If Mr. Obama had a chance to actually achieve any of the goals he laid out tonight it would be one thing. But with the gridlock in Congress and the party of "No" the Republicans determined to tear down anything this President wants it is a bleak outlook. Add in the medias determination to start the 2016 Presidential election tomorrow and the sad truth is nothing will be accomplished from here on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    scoobie "the average salary today for a school bus driver is $29K according to CNN."

    Many in the uk stuck on £14k - £15k. State of the Union? Business as usual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I thought the republican response by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was all motherhood and apple pie - high on rhetoric, low on real solutions. I'm pretty sure the perfect picture she painted of her hard working yet poor family, including a father the school bus driver, might have benefited from some of Obama's reforms - the average salary today for a school bus driver is $29K according to CNN.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I thought the speech was very pragmatic given the political divide, addressing practical problems in society where neither the market or government so far has provided a solution. The power of the gun lobby, and the right wing congress seemed to be on his mind when it came to implementing anything radical. Overall it seemed , dare I say, almost european in tone and principals (not a bad thing..)


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