Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was fine.
He hit his usual bipartisan notes, crediting Republicans for their midterm mandate, but he also urged them to cooperate on divisive issues like immigration reform and clean energy. At times, Obama got loose, joking about TSA pat-downs, tweaking Joe Biden’s Scranton roots, and explaining his education plan, “Race to the Top,” by quoting Jerry Maguire. (“If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement,” he told state governments, “we’ll show you the money.”)
At several points, Obama got down, dirty and boring, wading into the weeds to outline goals like "doubling our exports by 2014," and shifting "80 percent of America's electricity" by 2035.
The address was also quite somber. In proposing an across-the-board spending freeze, Obama sounded like he was resigned to a necessary bummer, not ambitious about a new policy. Curiously, he also managed to step on a key applause line, following up a declaration about “bringing our troops out of Iraq” with a swift warning. “As we speak,” Obama added, “al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.”
Democratic efforts in Sudan and Tunisia got shout-outs, too, although not the late-breaking protests in Egypt. Finally, Obama advocated more education and innovation funding, trying to square the immediate jobs crisis with a long-term science, technology and infrastructure policy.
Given the president’s rebounding poll numbers, his measured address is likely to be neutral to positive. It may also cement the view, ratified by the very active lame duck Congress, that Obama is committed to getting things done in Washington, even if it means going more than halfway to satisfy his opponents.
The biggest problem, at least for liberals and close listeners, was the logical holes in Obama’s tax talk. He mentioned “tax cuts” twice: Once to claim credit for fattening paychecks with the tax compromise, and once to criticize the thought of making that same tax plan permanent. He vowed to eliminate the "billions" of tax benefits that oil companies currently receive, and then, after bemoaning the deficit, called for cutting "the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years." Two of the three biggest corporations in America are oil companies, by the way, so those reforms might cancel each other out a bit. Now guess which one the Republicans will act on first.