Editorial: A President at the very height of his power

Barack Obama's window of opportunity will last until early summer 2014

Share
Related Topics

What a difference an election victory makes. President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening – with the exception of his emotional appeal for action on gun control – may have lacked the soaring cadences of his second inaugural speech three weeks earlier. Instead, it was a long and eminently sensible list of goals, enumerated by a man confident in his power and visibly liberated by the knowledge that he will never face the voters again.

His central theme – the need to improve the lot of the middle class – may have been familiar, but it is no less true for that. Nothing has more perniciously eroded national morale than the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and the decades-long stagnation, or worse, of the living standards of ordinary Americans. Rightly, Mr Obama pressed for improved education and job training, the closure of tax loopholes that favour the wealthy, and a substantial increase in the minimum wage. His call for action on climate change, like his demand for tighter gun legislation, was common sense.

How much he will achieve is another matter, however. Any deal to avoid impending automatic spending cuts of $85bn and pave the way for a long-term deficit-reduction plan – the overriding domestic issue – will require Republican support. Sadly, neither the President’s speech, nor the Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio, offered much sign of common ground. As regards America’s fiscal problems, both were mere  re-statements of respective party positions.

Even so, the sense of a new assuredness in Mr Obama was unmissable. In part, the President’s poise stems from his clear victory in November, after a campaign fought on many of the topics of Tuesday’s address. The second factor is the corollary of the above: the soundly defeated Republicans know something must now change.

True, the GOP has retained control of the House of Representatives, but largely thanks to its diligent gerrymandering of Congressional districts; in the overall House vote, the Democrats won half a million more. The House’s popularity is, moreover, at an all-time low – hardly a platform from which to mount a take-no-prisoners resistance to the White House. Rarely has the presidential bully pulpit been more of a factor in US politics, and in the all-important months ahead Mr Obama will be using it with a vengeance.

At most, his window of opportunity will last until the early summer of 2014. Then the mid-terms will be the dominating concern. And immediately afterwards, the focus will switch to the presidential race, leaving Mr Obama a virtual bystander – in domestic policy terms, at least – for his last two years. In the short time left to him, though, much can still be done.

The most promising area is immigration. Wisely, Mr Obama made no attempt on Tuesday to lay down specific guidelines to Congress, where a bipartisan consensus is already taking shape (thanks, in large part, to the Republicans’ need to boost the party’s dismal standing among Hispanic voters). Long- overdue reform of the complex, unfair US tax code is another possibility, given that both parties agree that loopholes must be closed for new revenue to be raised. So, too, is some form of gun control, although perhaps less than Mr Obama would like.

The real question – as always in Washington – will be whether anything agreed between the two sides can survive the attentions of the lobbyists and special interest groups. But Tuesday was, nonetheless, a solid night’s work from a president at the zenith of his power.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Britain, we have a drink problem

Stefano Hatfield
 

In Sickness and in Health: Cheers Jacko, the kindness of strangers is a great tonic

Rebecca Armstrong
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick