The president's State of the Union address is meant to give the nation an update on what has been accomplished and what is still left to be done. But in a re-election year, the televised appearance before Congress cannot avoid being seen as a sales pitch to the nation for four more years, and on Tuesday night (January 24), during his third such speech, President Obama laid out his vision for the future should he get the job again in November.
Touching on everything from education reform to a call for reviving American manufacturing, clean energy, immigration reform and a return to civility in Washington, Obama discussed his successes while challenging his Republican cohorts to pave the way for more opportunity for a middle class that has been hit hard by lingering economic uncertainty and unemployment.
Obama opened by reminding voters that he recently welcomed home the last troops from Iraq and oversaw the killing of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and many of al Qaeda's top lieutenants. "Imagine what we could accomplish if we were to follow their example," he said, praising America's warriors for working together and not being divided by their personal ambitions.
In a week when the Megaupload site was taken down, the president promised to stop the piracy of American movies, music and software overseas. With tens of millions out of work, Obama also said he wants to train 2 million workers with skills that will "lead directly to a job" through partnerships between community colleges and local businesses.
In another step away from the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" program, Obama praised the value of good teachers, saying, "Stop teaching to the test [and] replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn." He also called on every state to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. To further their education, Obama urged Congress to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling as scheduled in July, extending the tuition tax credit and double the number of work-study jobs in the next five years. In a firm challenge to colleges and universities constantly raising tuition rates, the president warned that if they can't harness technology and redesign courses to help students finish more quickly, they will face less taxpayer funding.
Speaking to the thousands of students brought here as children who aren't American citizens, the president said they should not live under the threat of deportation because Congress can't agree on a comprehensive immigration plan. "If election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses and defend this country," he said. "Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away."
Like so many presidents before him, Obama also called for a comprehensive energy strategy that's "cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs," touting a supply of natural gas that could last the nation nearly 100 years and which could create 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. "I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy," he said. "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here."
Earlier in the day, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, standing in front of a giant sign reading "Obama Isn't Working," offered a "pre-buttal" of the president's address. Before hearing the speech, the former Massachusetts governor predicted it would be "more divisive rhetoric from a desperate campaigner in chief ... it's shameful for a president to use the State of the Union to divide our nation."
But, in closing, Obama returned to his theme of public service. "Those of us who've been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn't matter if you're black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight," said the commander in chief who ended the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"When you're marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails," he continued. "When you're in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind. So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I'm reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes. No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other's backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard."
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