There was plenty of mush in his State of the Union, but also an unmistakably combative and populist tone
By Steve Kornacki
Before Tuesday night, it had been 16 years since a Democratic president gave a State of the Union address in his reelection year.
And in some ways, the speech that Barack Obama delivered was very similar to the one that Bill Clinton offered back in 1996. But if you put aside all of the platitudes, mushy rhetoric and feel-good proposals, the heart of Obama’s remarks demonstrated that he’s intent on pursuing a far more combative and populist path to a second term than the one Clinton followed.
It was during his Jan. 23, 1996, State of the Union that Clinton uttered the signature line of his presidency. “The era of big government is over,” he told a joint session of Congress that night. The line captured the essence of an election year message that largely conceded the broad themes of the Reagan revolution while offering the incumbent as a more compassionate implementer of them than his Republican opponents.
Obama’s address included no shortage of appeals to unity, bipartisanship and overriding national purpose, and he articulated plenty of vague, popular-sounding policy goals, much as Clinton did during his ’96 campaign. But his central message stressed a sharp and basic philosophical contrast with his partisan opponents – one he clearly plans to make the centerpiece of his reelection effort.
the centrists think he'll swerve left in his 2nd term. I sure hope he articulates and fights for that more successfully than in term 1. His congressional majorities will be smaller than in 2009-2010, so he needs to fight continually and loudly if he wants to implement a populist agenda. he should appear on camera with the progressive caucus, because that's the only way that group will ever get any attention.