Last night's speech — clocking in at 70 minutes — is the longest speech the president has given since becoming a national political figure in 2004.
President Obama made sure to convey to struggling Americans that he understands their anxieties. For them, he said, “change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don't understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded, but hard work on Main Street isn't; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They're tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can't afford it. Not now.”
At a time when most Americans think the nation is on the wrong track, he president couched his assertion that the state of the union is strong in this way: “Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.”
Though he made several pleas for bipartisan cooperation, the president could not hide his irritation with a GOP he sees as partisan and obstructionist. After listing tax cuts that we part of last year’s Recovery Act – “We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college” – he noted that Republicans in the chamber weren’t clapping.
“I thought I'd get some applause on that one,” he joked.
At another point, discussing how his proposed freeze on government spending “won't take effect until next year when the economy is stronger,” Republicans laughed, scoffing.
“That's how budgeting works,” the president ad-libbed, an edge in his voice.
He made clear his top priority. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” he said, though he also touched on energy, financial regulatory reform, education, exports, and lobbying and earmark reform.
Of health care reform – which has consumed so much time and political capital – the president made a push but offered no clear direction. Joking that “by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics,” the president acknowledged about the health care bill that “the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What's in it for me?’”
“As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed,” he said. “If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I'm eager to see it. “
The president tried to re-claim the mantle of change. “I campaigned on the promise of change –- ‘Change we can believe in,’ the slogan went,” he said. “And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change –- or that I can deliver it. But remember this –- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone.”