State of the Union Speech: Almost the Obama We Voted For

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.

That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.

But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.

It was brilliant to start and end with foreign policy and homage to the military, whose selflessness and teamwork contrast so sharply with the circular firing squad that is Congress.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we all had the selflessness of the troops.”

Best line of the speech IMHO: **Fight obstruction with action.**

Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.

It was so smart (albeit a little smoke and mirrors) to connect the multiple wars people are so tired of with the post WW II economic boom and the rise of the middle class. Now, there is HOPE. “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that dream alive.” “Fair shot, fair share, everyone play by rules.” “Reclaim American values.” He took the mantle personally by talking about his own grandfather’s military service and using the GI Bill to get an education afterward.

I couldn’t help thinking how darn lucky Obama is that Hillary Clinton is such a team player. So many of these foreign policy victories were hers. He did acknowledge that though she had been his primary opponent, as Secretary of State, she was in the room when the decision to go for Bin Ladin was made. (I try not to be like the sexist media and comment on female politicians’ looks, but it was great to see her looking radiantly, authentically Hillary, with her longer hair and the return of her much-maligned headband.)

Segue to taking credit for creating 3million–or was it 4?–jobs after Bush lost so many. And for protecting consumers after the big bad banks screwed them. And for saving GM, which has shown once again that the American workers are the best. He touched the heart of every businessman, who has probably read the classic business book, Built to Last.

Did he read my blogpost? He did what I asked him to do–emphasize expanding jobs in the sectors that heavily employ women, in myriad ways. Lauding teachers, expanding community colleges, and on.

I won’t continue with the usual SOTU Christmas tree of mentions dangled before constituencies waiting anxiously for their personally important issues. The important thing is the overall effect. This Obama can demolish any of the current Republican candidates.

No wonder the pundits were speculating on whether the GOP would try to draft a faux moderate like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels since all their current choices are deeply flawed. They tried to soften their hard-edged image by putting Daniels  up to do the requisite retort. He started out statesmanly, then quickly shifted to blame everything from joblessness to the pox on Obama. The only interesting moment was when he coined a new phrase, “trickle down government” as tar to stick together his various disparagements. Otherwise, it was same old same old. Whine whine. Negative, bitter. Attack. No vision, no action.

What Obama left out:
Didn’t mention Paycheck Fairness Act though did mention equal pay to big cheers.
Didn’t mention putting the Freedom of Choice Act back into his priority list, or even the recent rulings expanding contraceptive coverage.
Didn’t talk much about health care at all.
If he mentioned major women’s initiatives such as the Executive Order Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, I missed it.

But there was great symbolism in the first time an openly gay military officer sat with the first lady and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t tell was lauded. Same with Warren Buffett’s secretary nodding approval when the president pointed out the unfairness of her paying a higher tax rate than her boss, and the camera panning Laurene Jobs each time the word “innovation” was mentioned. There was also the almost unbearable sadness of seeing the courageous but still wounded AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords bidding farewell for now to her Congressional colleagues.

All in all, I’m breathing out, relieved that the president performed so well. Commentators said that the State of the Union speech isn’t nearly as important or watched as it used to be. But I’m a sappy enough patriot to listen to every word, and to embrace the theater of it as an incredibly important declaration that our democracy lives for all of us to fight passionately another day for what we believe.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

7 thoughts on “State of the Union Speech: Almost the Obama We Voted For

  1. I suppose I should thank you, Gloria, for giving me another object lesson on how it is Democrats manage to convince discerning independent women that they are on our side. This has always been a great mystery to me. Naturally, not being sappy or patriotic, in the sense that although I have great fondness for this land, I am deeply ashamed of many things this nation has done and continues to do, I had a completely different reaction to this speech. I will be elucidating that in great detail on my blog, methodically taking it apart as I did his last State of the Union speech. I wondered many times how he could say such things with a straight face. But then, I suppose that ability is what makes a master politician.

  2. Jeff Cook I’ve been not happy with him, but, I’m pleased that he, twice, mentioned the disparity between men and women in income or health care. Tis a start.

    Mark G Murphy ofcoarse, he wants your vote….”It’s not about what you say but what you can get done”- Hillary Clinton 2007

    Rebecca Sive Gloria: That’s exactly right!

    Jule E. Marine come over to the dark side….you’ll feel better….:L))

    Greg Smith Awesome Gloria! And I speak NOT as one of those folks, that Rush said voted for Obama, because he was a fellow “blah people (frothly speaking)!” bwaha!

    Lisa Wexler Almost, but I’m worried about his mixed message on Fracking.

    Dzifah Hiatsi · Friends with Eli Pariser and 8 others
    I think at this point, a quarter the Obama people saw 4 years ago is better than the alternatine… But second terms are for bold and fearless initiatives and achivements so it should be good

    Amy M Petunia Fooled you once? Guess you’re getting fooled again.

    Christopher Atwell Warts and all, I’d vote to re-elect even if the opposing party wasn’t bonkers out of it’s crazed fool mind, which as point of fact, it is. Perspective, it’s what’s for dinner.

    Halli Casser-Jayne Talk is cheap, Gloria.

    Lisa Cohen I’m voting for him again. He’s still better than any of the options.

    Amy M Petunia Good to know, Lisa. Liberal Jews don’t mind that he undermines Israel and has never stepped foot in the country. Been a great three years so far, huh?

    Jule E. Marine undermines Israel— gee, we wouldnt want to do that……

    Lisa Cohen Amy, I’m not a knee-jerk Zionist.

    Donna Barbanell Dewberry I admire him. He has had a really tough time, but he has also done some great things in the last 3 years. He isn’t going to make all the people happy all the time.

    Gloria Feldt A little healthy debate going on here! I don’t feel one bit sorry for him for the tough years, because he brought a lot of it on himself by not staking out strong leadership positions at the beginning. Nor do I agree with him on all the issues. I’m saying that the SOTU is a chance to revitalize his presidency and he used it well. Talk may be cheap but it’s the currency of politics

  3. Stolen from ian Welsh……

    “Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.” says Gloria Feldt

    He was doing what he believed in. Now it’s an election year, and he’s pandering. You, Ms. Feldt, are exactly why women are losing their abortion rights. With leaders like you and Obama who needs enemies?

    1. I’m walking along the ledge of a tall building. Across the street I can see the ledge of another tall building. If I leap into the space between the two building and hurl to the ground I must be doing something right because I’m in the middle!

      How many decades of fail with this tactic are you going to slog through before you get a clue?

      Split the difference neo-liberal Obama or Cameron always fails. The NDP in Canada is what works and that’s what we need here.

    2. that makes you as stupid as he is. I can’t imagine why it is 2012 and women still have only about 15 percent of the political power in this country. Door mat much?

    3. Or it could simply mean you hit a nerve, Gloria. Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel certainly did that when he derided critics from the left as “f’ing retards.” I would not stoop to that level to say anyone is stupid to want to believe that Obama is a good President, or even that what he appears to be saying is what he really believes, but I do think either belief is naive. Bill Clinton was another charmer. These master politicians are as slick as they come.

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