In State of the Union, Obama uses lofty rhetoric to obscure confrontation
President Barack Obama's 2012 State of the Union address was more partisan and more confrontational than perhaps any he's given, but it still had the aspirational rhetoric for which he has become well-known.
With spirited rhetoric about protecting the middle class and enforcing fairness in taxation, President Barack Obama abandoned his normally conciliatory tone about non-partisan politics during Tuesday night's State of the Union address and instead highlighted the differences between right and left.
"When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it's not because they envy the rich, it's because they understand that when I get a tax break I don't need, and the country can't afford, it either adds to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference," Obama said.
Ron Christie, a Republican political strategist, said Obama's speech amounted to confrontation, wrapped in kumbaya, quoting a newspaper headline he read. In short, Obama's words were all aimed squarely at former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, perhaps the most likely Republican presidential challenger to Obama.
"Gov. Romney, if you look at the amount of money that he paid in taxes and gave away in charitable contributions, he gave 42 percent. When is enough, enough? I'm tired of the class warfare we've heard and seen from the President," Christie said.
Farai Chideya, a journalist and blogger at Farai.com, said Obama's not the only one using the language of class warfare — citing Newt Gingrich as the biggest class warrior of them all. Plus, she said, arguments over redistribution of wealth are disingenuous, at best.
"That's what government does," she said. "As a single woman in my 40s, I've paid taxes for other people's kids, other people's parents. And I'm not mad about it. Government is built to redistribute wealth."
The question, though, according to Chideya, is whether the country wants the scope and kinds of redistribution that Obama is proposing.
"In some cases, what he proposed in the State of the Union, was very much on the minds of the people," Chideya said. "In some cases it was kind of drifty. Like kids must stay in school until 18. That's great in theory, but who's going to enforce that?"
Chideya said her main criticism of the speech was Obama spent the speech proposing "a scattershot of new programs," and not addressing the issue in the minds of most Americans: is the country on the wrong path, and why or why not?
"There's no question there had been job growth under President Obama, but I think some of the ways he framed that job growth, he was careful to say business growth," Chideya said.
That's because there continues to be declines in public sector employment. And that disproportionately affects those who are usually strong Obama supporters, she said.
Christie said Obama did a good job of talking in lofty rhetoric, to hide what Christie described as unkept promises, including of reduced unemployment and a smaller federal budget deficit.
"He did what he had to do, which was to lay out his objectives moving forward, and to try to draw a contrast with his Republican opponents," Christie said. "I think he did a very good job of defending his record."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH Radio Boston.