The State of the Union Address serves as a traditional means of presenting the official policy agenda of the U.S. President to the Congress and reaching out to general public. While specific measures to be taken by the U.S. Presidency are never disclosed, the State of the Union speech usually testifies to sentiments and concerns prevailing in American society, as well as to attempts by the Federal government to stay in touch with the public.
The 2012 State of the Union Address was another example of eloquence inbuilt in Barack Obama’s speeches. The Presidential rhetoric focused on several cardinal issues that have subsequently become an integral part of Obama’s 2012 election campaign. In particular, the foreign policy and job creation goals featured high on the list of priorities offered by President Obama in his speech.
The beginning of the 2012 State of the Union Address was rather moving, with the President invoking sacrifices borne by the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the course of the War on Terror. President Obama asserted that their effort was not in vain, as both Al Qaeda and the Taliban movement were effectively obliterated. He made a special mention of the fact that Osama bin Laden, a mastermind who stayed behind the 9/11 terror bombings, was destroyed by the American special operations team. A message sent by Obama is clear; in President’s view, the U.S. is effectively winning the War on Terror. The termination of Iraqi War and partial withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan were mentioned as most credible evidence to this development.
Turning from foreign policy and military issues to the problems of the U.S. domestic politics and economy, Obama attempted to evoke an image of “America within our reach”. With clear reference to the traditional American Dream ideology, the President presented an account of his family’s success after WW II, appealing to his audience to follow up on the example of that generation. The ideal of America that Obama alluded to in his speech combines the knowledge-based economic model of the globalization era with a greater emphasis on self-sufficiency and industrial development that were allegedly neglected in previous years.
Nonetheless, Obama sounded optimistic on the prospects of economic recovery. A core narrative of ‘sticking with the rules’, which has been part of Obama’s public approach to the issue of economic crisis and its reasons, has been continued in the 2012 State of the Union Address. Obama carefully avoided placing blame on any group or segment of business establishment, specifically extolling the contribution to job creation made by American manufacturers.
At the same time, the President clearly appealed to the public’s indignation at the super-rich’s privileged position. In particular, Obama called for implementation of “the Buffett tax rule”, itself proposed by Warren Buffett, one of the richest American business people. This principle ensures that a household with $1 million minimum income would have to pay at least 30% effective tax rate, so as to relieve tax pressure upon the middle-class families (Obama, 2012, p.7). To further counterbalance corporations’ special interests power, certain measures were proposed to limit the lobbyists’ influence with the Congress and to provide small businesses and start-up companies with more tax incentives, simultaneously lifting the burden of government regulation over them (Obama, 2012, p.6).
This productivist approach may well be compared to the ones taken by several previous Presidents in the times of economic downturn. However, unlike them, Obama did not elaborate on any far-reaching government spending program in his speech. This is undoubtedly colligated with the general climate of distrust in public spending-based solutions that found its most vivid expression in the rise of Tea Party movement in the early 2010s. In this situation, any U.S. President would refrain from invoking greater spending options.
Obama’s lauding of the free markets (more specifically, ‘open’ markets) bears witness to his fidelity to the principle of free trade that has been at heart of all major economic developments of last two decades. The President has unambiguously associated free trade with political and personal liberty, pledging continuous U.S. support for global mercantile expansion. This trade-based approach is peculiar to all U.S. administrations since the end of the Cold War, so in this regard Obama has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring its continuity.
Another important issue that Obama purported to handle in an ‘economic’ part of his speech was that of energy and energy resources. Granted that the 21st century is bound to be a time of intense competition for Earth’s resources between the principal nation-states, this aspect was naturally of utmost importance to Obama administration. As the U.S. became the world’s leading producer of natural gas in 2009 (Obama, 2012, p.7), creation of new job opportunities in this industry has been deemed to be one of the main concerns of the Federal government. Together with the clear-energy job blueprint, this comprehensive proposal for the U.S. energy independence and security warrants closer attention by policy makers and industry leaders.
One of the great difficulties that the U.S. economic policy makers have to face is outsourcing. While the majority of the American companies rely on this practice to certain extent, damage wreaked by outsourcing on the U.S. working and middle classes’ job security is immense. Accordingly, such policy steps as abolishing tax deduction for outsourcing and ensuring minimum tax payments for profits received outside the U.S. borders were proposed (Obama, 2012, p.3). However, a contrast between this protectionist rhetoric and basically internationalist narrative with respect to global trade makes one wonder which approach would prevail in the end.
To summarize, the 2012 State of the Union Address has been a fairly traditional policy message, with significant attention paid to international and economic problems. However, it should be borne in mind that specific measures to be introduced in future might be rather different from official Presidential declarations.