Obama calls for innovation to 'win the future' in State of Union speech
In the second State of the Union speech of his presidency Tuesday night, US President Barack Obama called on Americans to "out-innovate" the world in a bid to boost the economy and increase US competitiveness.
Just two months after his party’s “shellacking” - by his own admission - in the November midterm elections, US President Barack Obama made a spirited pitch for US economic competitiveness, calling on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world," in a Tuesday night primetime State of the Union address.
“The future is ours to win,” Obama told Congress and a nation struggling to emerge from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. “We have to make America the best place to do business.”
Recalling the Cold War race between the US and the Soviet Union, Obama noted that although the Soviets had beaten the Americans into space with the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite, the US subsequently managed to surpass the Soviets and “unleash a wave of innovation”.
Calling for an increased investment in scientific research, information technology and clean energy technology, Obama stressed: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
To spend or to cut?
The US president's annual address to Congress is an occasion not only to present the
current temperature of the nation, but also to provide a foretaste of the legislative goals on the agenda.
Addressing a nation that has grown fearful of rising debt and increased spending, Obama proposed a freeze on annual domestic spending for the next five years. “This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade,” he said.
Referring to a bipartisan Fiscal Commission he created last year, Obama added that “the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it - in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.”
The spending-versus-cutting debate has gripped and even divided the nation. It is widely considered to have contributed to the Democratic defeat in the midterm elections, with Republicans criticising Obama’s public spending initiatives.
But while Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech appeared to take the national mood into account, the president stressed that spending cuts should not be made “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens”.
Circling back to his theme of innovation, Obama maintained that “cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine”.
An empty seat and ‘a new era of cooperation’
In his first State of the Union address since the acrimonious midterm campaign that returned House control to the Republicans, Obama called for “a new era of cooperation”.
Referring to the deadly January 8 shooting near Tucson, Arizona, Obama paid tribute to injured Democratic Congresswoman Gaby Giffords, noting “the empty chair in this Chamber”. But the tragedy, he reiterated, “reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.”
In an answer to Obama’s call for unity following the shooting, lawmakers on Tuesday night abandoned the traditional partisan seating plan to sit side-by-side across party lines.
Supporting the democratic aspirations of Tunisians
Obama did not spend much time on the biggest legislative achievement of his presidency:
the controversial health care reform package signed into law last year.
“Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law,” Obama deadpanned as his audience laughed about what has been one of the most divisive periods in America’s modern political history. “So let me be the first to say that…if you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care any better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.”
While he mentioned the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the fight against al Qaeda in Pakistan, foreign policy was not a dominant theme in Obama’s second State of the Union address.
He did, however, mention the latest developments in Tunisia, saying, “The United States of America stands with all the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.”
The 2011 State of the Union address comes at the midpoint of Obama’s presidency, as the US political machine starts gearing up for the 2012 presidential campaign.
According to Steven Ekovich, political science professor at the American University in Paris, next year’s election was an underlying theme of Obama's address.
“We saw once again that this was a campaign speech. The State of the Union has become largely a campaign speech,” Ekovich told FRANCE 24. “He gave us another good speech, because Barack Obama is a great orator. Ordinarily we expect an extraordinary speech from him.”