What Obama didn’t say in his State of the Union speech

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NEW YORK | In his fourth speech in front of the nation, president Barack Obama addressed the financial crisis and pledged to fight for economic fairness. In the middle of the race to the November election, the president couldn’t find a better moment to speak about inequality. Earlier on Tuesday, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney –Obama’s most likely opponent, according to some experts– disclosed that he paid an effective income tax rate of 13.9% in 2010, much less than Americans with substantially smaller incomes earned from wages, not investing.

“Washington should stop subsidising millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under US$250,000 a year, like 98 per cent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up,” said Obama.

The US president used many catchphrases about the frail American dream and what seems to be the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, a plan to increase taxes on the very rich:

“No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. 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, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

“Let’s never forget:  Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same.  It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom:  No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”

But what he did not say, remind many political analysts, is that last summer Republicans forced him to accept $2 trillion in budget cuts during the debt-ceiling impasse.

“He says “we’ve put in place” new rules on Wall Street, glossing over the fact that it had little Republican support and the GOP candidates have all vowed to repeal the Dodd-Frank law,” explains The Washington Post in its fact checking article.

As you know, Republicans claim that taxes should not be raised on anybody on this economic downturn, and particularly on the most wealthy because they are presumably the ones creating jobs.

“Entitlements drive our national debt, not discretionary spending or tax rates”, points out Scribe’s Lachlan Markay, a blogger from The Heritage Foundation, who has made his own fact checking of the SOTU speech.

Steven Greenhut, editor in chief of CalWatchdog.com and a Sacramento-based newspaper columnist, gives his take on the issue:

The president’s reference to greed applied solely to a financial sector that did what its Washington regulators insisted it do: provide home loans to people who couldn’t afford them. I’m assuming his new “Financial Crimes Unit” will spare investigations of the legislators who crafted those rules. And yet the president also said that “responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief. The president is right that it’s time for an economy based on responsibility, but he’s wrong to believe we’ll ever achieve that as long as his administration promotes more bailouts and protects the public sector from accountability.”, he writes in an op-ed for Bloomberg.

Longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader says at Democracy Now that Obama’s criticism of income inequality and Wall Street excess fail to live up to his record in office.

“[Obama] says one thing and does another,” Nader says. “Where has he been for over three years? He’s had the Justice Department. There are existing laws that could prosecute and convict Wall Street crooks. He hasn’t sent more than one or two to jail.”

BTW, Nader was one of Obama’s biggest detractors in Twitter:

“He is a political coward,” says @Ralph_Nader of @BarackObama not discussing #OWS in #SOTU.

“He still is not able to use the word ‘poverty.’ It’s always ‘the middle class,'” says @Ralph_Nader of @BarackObama in #SOTU


Given it is an election year, the president talked little about foreign policy, although he announced the setting up of an enforcement unit to crack down on unfair trade practices in countries, such as China. He also vowed to take tough action against counterfeit goods and to protect American intellectual property rights.

Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, comments for The Corner:

“By reminding the Congress that he and his Administration had brought twice as many trade cases against China as previously and that he would set up a special Trade Enforcement Unit to ferret out unfair trade practices in the future, he reminded Republicans that Democrats are not giving the Chinese a free pass. This was an unavoidable genuflection to the “red meat faction” of  the Republican Party, which is always more willing to export blame for problems in America, and especially to China, than to look into the pathology of our own political process as it now so commonly manifests itself in Washington and thru national politics. But, the brevity and terseness of the President’s remarks on China were a clear indicator that he wanted to keep his comments discreet enough not to do anything to disrupt the always delicate state of US-China relations.”

If you missed the President’s State of the Union speech, you can read the full text here (Via The Washington Post).

** For those fans of wordclouds, the one that illustrates this article is a snapshot of Obama’s most-used terms.

About the Author

Ana Fuentes
Columnist for El País and a contributor to SER (Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión), was the first editor-in-chief of The Corner. Currently based in Madrid, she has been a correspondent in New York, Beijing and Paris for several international media outlets such as Prisa Radio, Radio Netherlands or CNN en español. Ana holds a degree in Journalism from the Complutense University in Madrid and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Master's in Journalism from Spanish newspaper El País.

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