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Expert Comment: Obama's State of the Union

American flag Wednesday 13 February 2013

Dr Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics, History, Media and Communication at Liverpool Hope University, on the 2013 State of the Union Address.

Presidents give a State of the Union speech annually to the branches which comprise the United States government. It is part politics, part a national address and part theatre. It marks a moment when all the branches of the American government come together to consider the issues which are central to the health and wellbeing of the nation.

Obama’s 2013 speech gave an insight into the agenda he intends to pursue in his second term, and in keeping with his 2012 election platform it was ambitious in nature and suggested he still wishes to confront his political opponents in a forceful way. With the House of Representatives still in Republican hands following the 2012 election there is a major impediment to the smooth passage of the President’s agenda. Obama took this opportunity to stress that the Republicans were holding back progress on a range of reforms he wishes to undertake.

With the economy still lacking dynamic growth, and issues of the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling unresolved, it was unsurprising that economic concerns for middle America took centre stage in his address. Additionally a proposed raise of the minimum wage would help workers and serve to energize the economy. Significant other proposals were to the fore. A reduction of almost half of the US troops in Afghanistan suggested a move to begin a managed end to that conflict. Climate change was placed on the agenda following Hurricane Sandy and the variable weather experienced across the last year.

By far the most controversial issue raised was that of gun control. The President pressed for a change to gun laws, outlawing for example semi-automatic assault weapons. This follows a number of high profile shootings, and several of the guests at the address were from families who had directly been affected by gun crime, the President asking that their voices be heard in the debate over firearm ownership.

Obama’s biggest problem is time. He doesn’t have much of it. He has four years left in office and commonly Presidents start to become ineffectual and lack force during the final two years of their leadership. This then gives Obama about two years to shape a distinctive political legacy for his second term, and given the issues he has put on the table it promises to be a challenging task.

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