State of the Union: small ambitions, with a smile

  • Updated: January 29, 2014 - 6:10 PM

A collection of reactions to President Obama’s sixth State of the Union address.


President Obama seemed relaxed and in good humor as he gave his State of the Union address Tuesday, backed by Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker John Boehner.

Photo: Larry Downing • Associated Press,

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What happened to the visionary politician who promised that his inauguration would mark the moment the rise of the oceans began to slow?

Simple: Reality has sunk in.

In year six of Obama’s presidency, modest proposals are the most appropriate offering. The president has much to be modest about — and no real alternative. The president’s sway has ebbed even further since his re-election in 2012, thanks to the chaotic launch of his health insurance program and the economy’s stubborn failure to produce enough new jobs.

Bipartisan legislation on one big issue might still be possible: immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he wants to try to pass a series of immigration bills this year, and Obama says he’s willing to make a deal.

But expect downsized ambition to be the order of the day.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times



It’s natural to contrast Obama’s soaring legislative ambitions of a year ago with this week’s less adventurous “I’ll do it myself” speech. But he has to deal with the Congress he has, not the Congress he wishes he had. And realism in pursuit of a degree of social justice is no vice.

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post


Obama’s speech acknowledged the obvious: Congress has become a dead end for most of the big, muscular uses of government to redress income inequality and improve the economy, because of implacable Republican opposition. The remainder of Obama’s presidency will be largely devoted to smaller actions that the White House can perform on its own.

Taking the offensive by veering around Congress isn’t new for the administration, but it is more important than ever. As the president forcefully described, inequality has deepened and upward mobility has stalled.

The only way to truly affect the economy on a mass scale, and to make a difference for tens of millions of people instead of a few hundred thousand, is to persuade Congress to go along on the major initiatives the president was forced to repeat in his remarks, such as extending jobless benefits, creating high-quality preschool for all 4-year-olds and, especially, raising the minimum wage.

One particularly promising request the president made of Congress was to expand the earned income tax credit, which now benefits 15 million families a year, to workers without children. That would not only boost the incomes of many at the bottom of the ladder, but it would provide the incentive to work that many Republicans say they support.

Pushing for a vote would reveal whether Republicans are so opposed to anything Obama wants that they would reject their own ideas. As important as executive orders can be, they should not replace showing that Republicans are voting against the public’s wishes.

New York Times


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