WASHINGTON -- If the national unemployment rate remains stuck at over 9 percent -- as it has for 20 months -- if people are worried they may be laid off or have their salaries reduced, if the home foreclosure crisis continues, if mortgages are hard to obtain and if baby boomers remain anxious about retirement, then the lovely, lofty and optimistic words in President Obama's second State of the Union speech will not have meant much.
Obama's address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night focused a lot on innovation to create jobs and for "winning the future," a forward looking slogan that sets up Obama's blueprint for 2011 and his 2012 re-election campaign as he deals with a GOP-controlled House and a Senate where Democratic strength is diminished.
In the wake of the Tucson shooting spree, members of Congress -- some crossing the aisle as a symbolic bid to bridge partisan divide -- toned up the evening for the public. More civility is good. Hooting and cheering, a standard in recent State of the Unions, demeaned the presidency and Congress.
Obama offered a balance throughout his speech, something for Republicans and Democrats. Examples of this studied calculation:
♦ While talking about the Tucson tragedy, Obama declined to call for more curbs on guns -- a guaranteed hot button issue that would stroke GOP ire.
♦ Obama was willing to take on, however, an equally polarizing issue, comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats had criticized him for not making it a priority in his first two years. "Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration," he said.
♦ Obama won repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the lame duck session last year, allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The president also offered something the Pentagon will welcome: He called on colleges to "to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation."
♦ With Republicans intent on repealing Obama's signature health care reform law -- it's symbolic since the Senate will not go along with the House on that -- Obama said he was open to some fixes. He offered the GOP medical malpractice reform to "rein in frivolous lawsuits." Obama also repeated his willingness to clean up what everyone seems to acknowledge was a mistake in the health care law, a requirement for businesses to file IRS 1099 forms for purchases over $600.
Republicans found Obama's proposal for a budget freeze unremarkable and falling short of solving the deficit problem.
House Speaker John Boehner was not pacified by Obama's call for a spending freeze. "Unfortunately, even as he talked about the need for fiscal discipline, President Obama called for more 'stimulus' spending without making a commitment to the cuts and reforms the American people are demanding," he said in a statement.
Obama's tone captured the bipartisan civility of the night. But opposition to him remains strong in the Republican House. Obama faces tough battles ahead.