The State of the Union is to the president as a quarterly earnings call is to a CEO: a chance to speak directly to stakeholders and put the warmest possible glow on the data.
Most recently, job growth has been steady, but unemployment still ticked up last month.
“Our businesses have created over six million new jobs,” he began.
Obama sounded like a CEO in another way, too. Nearly every policy proposal he made, large and small, tied in some way back to jobs and economic growth.
In his second term, the president’s jobs agenda relies heavily on technology and innovation. Business leaders in the audience included Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who got a shout-out for starting to make Macs in America again, and Peter Hudson, CEO of healthcare IT iTriage.
The Department of Defense, Obama announced, will partner in building several stateside high-tech manufacturing hubs using 3-D printing and other advanced technologies. (One wit on Twitter called 3-D printing “this year’s switchgrass.“) The President also recommitted to major scientific research on the human brain and to renewable energy, including driving down the cost of wind and solar.
“We must do more to combat climate change,” was the second standing ovation-inducing line of the night, as Obama cited natural disasters, record temperatures, and Superstorm Sandy. In weak language, the president seemed to back some kind of cap-and-trade policy (“a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change”), and proposed using oil and gas taxes to fund an “Energy Security Trust” to drive R&D toward electric and hybrid cars.
Even Obama’s biggest, most liberal-sounding social proposal (and biggest applause line of the night) was couched in economic terms. He backed federally funded universal Pre-K, which has been shown to return $7 for each dollar invested due to better life outcomes for children living in poverty.
Obama endorsed the growth of technical high schools, such as P-Tech, in Brooklyn (see the Fast Company story here), that partner with IBM and graduate every student with an associate’s degree in a technical field.
He endorsed an increase in the minimum wage for the first time since 2009, and tying it for the first time to the cost of living, a proposal that’s starting to gain some fans even in the business community.
But all these proposals, he stressed, will be revenue-neutral: “It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
In the speech’s emotional coda, Obama turned finally to gun control. He spoke stirringly of Newtown, Gabby Giffords, and Hadiya Pendelton, the Chicago high school student shot only a week after performing at his own inauguration, and whose parents were in the chamber.
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” Obama said. “They deserve a vote.” And he continued:
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence–they deserve a simple vote.
But his proposals were nothing new or extreme: he called for a vote in Congress on background checks and bans on assault weapons and large ammunition magazines. (Gun violence was the night’s meta-narrative, as the major news networks cut to and from the president’s speech with the cinematic standoff between California police and fugitive ex-officer Chris Dorner in a remote burning cabin in the woods.)
Meanwhile, on the Internet, Bing and the AARP bought top promoted Tweets for the hashtag #sotu, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin promised live #twibuttals and Anonymous vowed to stop all webcasts of the address as a protest on the suicide of Aaron Swartz and other issues–which did not seem to work.
Many in the tech world expressed resistance to Obama’s bid to be the first “cyber war president,” with an executive order signed earlier in the day. Anonymous tweeted “Obama has signed an executive order allowing private companies such as Google to hand your private information over to the Govt.”
[Image: President Barack Obama meets with speechwriters in the Oval Office, Feb 2013. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza].