Inside Story Americas

The two sides of Barack Obama

With the US president trying to appeal to all sides, what does his State of the Union speech offer for the year ahead?
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2013 13:50

Barack Obama, the US president, has once again attempted to appease both sides of the political divide as he set out his agenda for 2013.

"Barack Obama is working very hard to try to deal in a pragmatic way with what's in front of him - globalisation, the great geo-political challenges in front of the country today. So I feel that it was a very responsive speech at the historical moment that we are in, and a good one for the country."

- Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the New Democrat Network

His annual State of the Union address was filled with policies appealing both to progressives and conservatives, even though some - like fighting climate change and increasing oil production - appear incompatible.

For the less well off, there was a call to raise the minimum wage, though by 50 cents less than he pledged in 2008 but also a suggestion of cutting social safety net benefits.  

He gained a round of applause with a pledge of transparency in what he called counter-terrorism policy but much of it remains shrouded in secrecy.

The president also stressed areas of common interest between the Democrats and the Republicans on immigration policy. But he gave few specifics beyond the further militarisation of the border with Mexico.

Immigration reform in President Obama's second term is thought of as a real possiblity as both Democrats and Republicans attempt to adjust to changing demographics, and a changing electorate.

During his State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to send him a reform bill in the next few months.

"Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

"I think in this speech, you saw really the two sides of Barack Obama, a president who was raised in a very progressive tradition, who has read the books that progressives have read and knows the thinking and a lot of things and wants to be a great progressive president. [But] by the same token he is a politician, and he's conscious of the fact he has a Republican Congress to deal with and a country that isn't always with him on every issue and so you do see that soaring rhetoric that asks Americans to go with him to bolder, better places."

- John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation

"Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."

While members of Congress seemed pleased with Obama's statement on immigration reform, undocumented workers were disappointed. Around 250 gathered in the Capitol, demanding that their voices be heard.

Several were arrested after chanting "stop the deportations" and "our families are suffering" during a Senate hearing on immigration reform.

President Obama also urged the US Congress to do more about combatting climate change.

"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy," said Obama.

But then the president also talked about his plans for achieving greater energy independence.

"The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that, that's why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water," he said.

Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, to discuss Barack Obama's State of the Union speech are guests: Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the New Democrat Network; and John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.


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