Analysis of any President’s 6th State of the Union Address is tricky business, because at this time in any Administration, opinions have hardened toward a President to the degree that people typically see only what they have decided in advance they want to see.
So to conservatives and Republicans, the President’s speech was one big exercise in calls for taxing the rich (that will go nowhere), advocacy for big government socialism programs (that will go nowhere) and a denial of the will of the people as reflected in the last election.
To liberals, moderates and Democrats, the President’s speech was a stunning success. Obama made the case for his Administration’s many successes. He took credit for the economy finally improving. And he appropriately mocked Republicans for their failed policies in Cuba and inability to win presidential elections. Most important, Obama laid out key themes and polices regarding the fight against economic inequality that will likely define the 2016 campaign and most economic debates for the next decade.
I was struck by how upbeat, bold and, seemingly, optimistic, Obama seemed (He was Reaganesque in that regard). We have been told repeatedly by pundits that the Obama Administration is out of steam and out of ideas and that the president is simply marking his time on the golf course until he can collect his pension. The President’s speech was a stark reminder that the pundits were wrong.
One of the main goals of any speech is to persuade the audience to do something that they weren’t initially inclined to do. By that measure, did Obama persuade any of the Republicans in congress to adopt his views on taxation, infrastructure spending or new education spending? No. Not even close.
The bigger issue is whether Obama persuaded any White, working class Americans who make less than $100 grand a year that his policies will help their pocketbook. Obama’s arguments clearly fell flat in 2014. Did his arguments lay the ground for success for Democrats in 2016?
We won’t know until election day.
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