Reactions to President Obama’s first State of the Union address of his second term largely fell along party lines, with supporters praising his uncompromising and emboldened agenda and critics voicing skepticism that the Democratic leader’s political left-turn will lead the country to prosperity.
In Obama’s Tuesday-night speech, the president urged a deeply divided Congress to embrace his plans to use government money to create jobs and strengthen the nation’s middle class. He declared Republican ideas for reducing the deficit “even worse” than the unpalatable deals Washington had to stomach during his first term.
“Just more ‘empty promises’ — and spending,” Donna Adell, Ottawa, wrote on The Herald’s Facebook page.
Obama conceded economic revival is an “unfinished task,” but he claimed clear progress and said he was prepared to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.
“We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,” Obama said in an hour-long address to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.
With unemployment persistently high and consumer confidence falling, the economy remains a vulnerability for Obama and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.
“We are broke, broken, and bankrupt ... in so many ways,” Dan Oglesby, Ottawa, wrote on Facebook.
But not everyone was so critical of Obama and the plans he outlined in his address.
“I was particularly pleased that he addressed something few political leaders address, in the fact that a minimum wage is not a living wage and that it should be tied to the cost of living,” Caleb Correll, Ottawa, said.
In a move that cheered union leaders and rankled the business community, Obama proposed raising the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by the end of 2015 and linking future increases to inflation. The current rate has been in place since 2009. The president’s proposal is more modest than it was in 2008, when he called for a $9.50 minimum hourly wage by 2011.
“Nine dollars still isn’t quite a living wage, but it’s what is politically possible, and would help many hard-working people with low incomes who are struggling,” Correll, who has served as the chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Party, as well as a former Democratic candidate for House District 59, which includes Franklin County, said.
The issue of economic inequality — its severity a matter of debate between liberals and conservatives — has long preoccupied Obama. In his first term, however, the recession required his immediate attention. And while his health care law was one attempt at addressing those disparities, the Republican gains of the 2010 midterm elections chastened him and his focus shifted to a debate with Congress over fiscal restraint.
“We gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded,” Obama said Tuesday. “Our economy is adding jobs — but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs — but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.”
Minimum wage arguments and economic rhetoric aside, one conservative leader said, his response to the presidential address was more about what wasn’t said.
“He didn’t say his spending has caused our national debt to skyrocket,” Mike Huckabee, a former Republican governor and presidential candidate, said in a release. “He didn’t mention that, because of Obamacare, businesses aren’t hiring new workers. And he didn’t admit that he is using the national tragedy of the Newtown [Conn.] shootings to achieve a long-sought-after liberal goal: strict gun control.”
Huckabee, who won the Franklin County and Kansas caucus races during his 2008 presidential bid, said Obama’s political ambition knows no bounds.
“He is attempting to remake government with executive orders, czars, new regulations, judicial appointments, left-wing policy and mountains of new spending,” the Fox News host said. “And if we do not stop him by returning the Senate to Republican hands and maintaining Republican control of the House we risk the end of the values we both cherish and the very prosperity of our nation.”
In his address, Obama said Americans expect more from Republicans and Democrats than constant feuding and threats of political stalemates.
“They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party,” he said. “They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”