President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address reiterated many of the topics he addressed last year. Sensing a greater urgency, Obama added overtones of American mythology, illustrating his vision of a nation on the cusp of a “Sputnik Moment.” The president wanted to convey optimism despite present challenges and show that America is still capable of the ingenuity possessed in the past. But in this address, Obama didn’t bridge the chasm between rhetoric and reality, leaving his message somewhat blunted and hollow.
On the positive side, Obama did address some obvious concerns: 9.8 percent unemployment, $14 trillion of debt and environmental sustainability. The president elaborated on steps he would take to rein in the deficit, including a freeze in domestic spending and reductions in military spending as approved by the Pentagon. In regards to the economy, the president stressed increases in exports, as well as lowering the corporate tax rate. However, some of the more platitudinous rhetoric came off as spin. In the era of Obama’s proverbial “Sputnik Moment,” America finds itself lagging behind other developing countries, particularly India and China. But does touting goals for clean energy by 2035 really compare to the beginning of the U.S.’s space race with the Soviet Union?
Obama said that, despite a Republican takeover in the House of Representatives, he would not make political concessions like Bill Clinton. Needing to regain ground with his base for next year’s election, entirely absent from the address were any “End of Big Government” epiphanies. The president emphasized the need to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and exhorted Republicans not to balance the budget on the backs of America’s neediest citizens. The president was evasive regarding any endorsement of the proposals of the recently concluded Deficit Reduction Commission, but highlighted the necessity of many of the proposed spending cuts. However, Obama failed to address the impact these cuts may have on the nation’s fragile economic recovery, and his silence on the matter was deafening.
If the substance of the president’s speech belied his lofty eloquence, he had reason for caution. It isn’t a particularly forgiving time to be President of the United States, and spending cuts aren’t the only obstacles that stand to derail a sound economic recovery. There is also the issue of a country like Greece or Ireland defaulting on its debt. In addition, if the current political instability in Egypt spreads to other countries, the markets will have to confront a spike in the price of oil. More insidiously, many believe the recent rise in gas prices indicates global oil production as at (or approaching) a peak, at the very least signaling an end to the era of cheap oil. A spike in oil prices could seriously jeopardize the economic recovery, or even cause another recession, and these issues loom large as Obama seeks re-election in 2012.
– Tom Scully
Junior public relations major