Originally Published 2012-01-31 00:00:00 Published on Jan 31, 2012
Following President Obama's State of the Union address, polls show Obama leading the Republican Presidential frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The next few months will tell us whether Obama will be able to convert this into another Presidential term.
Obama's State of the Union Address: Kicking off re-election campaign?
President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last week clearly showed a President who is in election mode. The speech seemed to be more a campaign speech than one about the state of the country. The New York Times said, it was more like a "state of the campaign" address while CBS news called it a "re-election speech in State of the Union Clothing".

The theme of the speech was an America and an economy that is "built to last". Obama made a pitch for economic fairness and called for "responsibility from everyone". "We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What's at stake aren't Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And we have to reclaim them".

A good part of the President's speech was devoted to the gains made in reducing unemployment. According to the data released by the Labor Department, unemployment in the US was at 8.5% in December 2011, the sixth month in a row in which the economy had added more than 100,000 jobs a month. The President justifiably took credit for the bail-out and reviving the auto industry which has now added nearly 160,000 jobs: "We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back." Obama re-emphasised his focus on renewable energy, arguing that it would create more jobs too while calling for an end to subsidies for oil companies. He also referred to the free trade agreements he signed with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, asserting that this would bring new consumers for American products. With an eye on the Hiic votes, Obama also pitched for comprehensive immigration reforms that would allow "responsible young people" to get American citizenship.

The President stuck to his health care overhaul and spoke once more about tax cuts on the richest Americans being unfair to poorer Americans. He invoked the Buffet rule that someone who makes more than a million dollars a year should not get tax subsidies or deductions and should not pay less than 30% in taxes. This was perhaps a veiled attack on the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney who has just released his tax documents for the last two years showing that he paid tax at less than 15%.

The President was quite harsh on China on trade issues, criticising it for unfair trade practices and piracy of American movies, music and software. He even announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate "unfair trading practices" in countries like China.

What would be of interest to India is that Obama again mentioned outsourcing in his speech arguing that companies which outsource work offshore should not get tax deductions: ... "it is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America." But India should not get unduly worried about this as this is an election year and one would expect the President to make all the right noises.

The President also took care to trumpet his foreign policy achievements: the Iraq withdrawal", the proposed drawback from Afghanistan of which the money saved would be used for paying off debts and "nation building, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the growing isolation of Iran. Playing to the galleries, the President warned Iran that he would take "no options off the table" to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon. He reiterated that the US is a Pacific power and touched on the administration's overtures to Myanmar. Refuting the idea that the US is in decline, he said, "anyone who says that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about". The President ended his speech with an appeal for unity: "...our destiny is stitched ... 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. As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong."

Through most of the speech, Obama reverted to the favourite themes that he has focussed on through his Presidency: higher taxes on the rich, health care reform, immigration reforms, jobs, the need to work together and the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. These are likely to be the focus of his re-election campaign too. Much of the speech was thus really an appeal to the voters for a second term.

Analysts have described the speech as "effective" and "positive". The address has also been received well by voters across the political divide with around 91 percent approving, according to a CBS poll. Other polls also show Obama leading the Republican Presidential frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. So President Obama seems to have kicked off his re-election campaign on a positive note. The next few months will tell us whether he will be able to convert this into another Presidential term.

(The writer is a Researcher at Observer Research Foundation)
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