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Analysis: Obama In Campaign Form In Final State Of The Union

Analysis: Obama In Campaign Form In Final State Of The Union
Analysis: Obama In Campaign Form In Final State Of The Union GUESTS: Carl Luna, political science professor, Mesa College Thad Kousser, political science professor, UC San Diego

This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. After nearly 8 years as President. Barack Obama had a message for his fellow politicians in Washington. He stated it clearly in his State of the Union address last night. Put aside toxic Toltec and work together to find solutions for a miracle will not be able to face the 21st century challenges to security and democracy. And his last State of the Union address the president defended the strength, economic health and leadership America has shown against some of the damning statements being made by presidential candidates. It was as the president himself said a speech looking towards the future. Joining me to discuss the address are called Luna -- welcome back. First let me get your overall impression of the state of the Union address. Let me start with you call. I thought it was a good speech. He gives good speeches. I thought he seemed a little bit unchained last night. He made a few jokes and went right to the point that he wants better politics in America. Laid out some policies he would like to see who was trying to shape his legacy and protected. Which is being attacked by Republicans. Your overall impression? I thought it was one of the most important speeches of the campaign. That was a campaign speech about -- instead of the thing that presidents usually talk about, he talked about the why. The reasoning behind his approach to governing, his approach most importantly and effectively to foreign policy, and also the America he wants to see five or 10 years down the road. That was aimed at his legacy and also very clearly aimed against some of his Republican candidates in 2016 and in favor of continuing his legacy by putting a Democrat in the White House. Presidents usually linger over their agendas and accomplishments during the state of the Union address. This time the president rushed through those items. I just want to spend a moment or two on a couple of those issues. The economic turnaround this company has had since he took office is significant. He did mention that in a number of ways. Unemployment, gas prices and the health of the auto industry. If you take a look at Barack Obama's years in office when he inherited and helping Scott things are definitely a lot better. Unemployment -- is looking good on paper. The big angst out there is the because middle-class household has not seen things improve. Nobody has quite that the magic bullet for that. Which is why his legacy is in a strong as he would like. On paper we are looking good. Average household look at their checking account and not doing is good. Obama also praised the strength of the United States around the world and he tried to put the threat of Isis and tourism in perspective. Here is a clip from the state of the union. But as we focus on destroying iso-, Isis over the top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages, they pulled an enormous danger to civilians -- they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. The president is getting criticism for that. Some say he is trivializing the threat from terrorism. He is continuing to trivialize the threat. How did you take those remarks? I think what he was attempting -- you can't look like you are not vigilant. Everyone agrees that he has been less aggressive than his predecessor George Bush -- and that has been painted as weak. What he was trying to say is the reasoning behind his approach has been America's strength and wisdom and patience. He was explaining why he has done what he has done by not going into Syria and being as aggressive and the Middle East. Letting things unfold and putting America's security first rather than nationbuilding. It was a strong stance and to me it was effective but we will have to see what voters think there Do you think this kind of statement might play into the hands of critics that say this is World War III? Of course it will -- Franklin Roosevelt said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Modern thought candidates are saying here everything. They don't want to minimize anything. Taking 9/11 out of the equation in terms of lives lost -- more people die every year tripping over their cats that are going to be killed by terrorists in the United States. That is a factual figure. Terrorism strikes as viscerally and if you want to be demagogue it and politics is a great point to ride -- The whole tenor started to change when you set the words we the people -- we had that clip. We the people -- our Constitution begins with those three simple words. Words we have come to recognize me all the people, not just some. Was that insist we rise and fall together. That is how we might perfect our union. I want to talk with the both of you for a minute, not about what the president is saying but how he is saying it. This type of cost, this emotional emphasis is reminiscent of the type of the speeches the president has been giving in these last years of his presidency. I'm thinking of Charleston, the eulogy he delivered after the church shooting. Even last week's speech on gun control. What do you make of this? The president has tried a reasonable approach of what we should do and the way statistics look, if you can connect with reason you connect with emotion. He is identifying one of the single biggest problems we have that we are so divided that half the country and the other half just does not get along. He gives a good speech, they're going to be some who says he walks on water and some will say he is an elitist. You will not reset middleground. He keeps trying to bridge that gap but I don't think he will. Maybe not until after the election. Do you think this way he is presenting these issues, this more emotional one might even say dramatic, one might even say heartfelt way is part and parcel of his having been president for all of these years? I think it also evokes to why he became president. It sounds like a speech he made in 2004 -- is a mixture of a very plainspoken commonsense approach. You saw that in the first two thirds of the speech. Then he switched to a much higher tone and try to invoke Martin Luther King and others. I think that has been effective for him in the past and energizing his base. And reaching out to just a few of those independent and swing voters. I think he knows and in the most personal and vulnerable moment of his speech he accepted the fact he has failed to unite the country. So he knows he is not going to swing Republican voters to his side. What he is trying to do is remind Democrats and moderate why they elect him in the first place. Much has been made about the fact that he said his one regret was that the political [Indiscernible] was worse and not better since he has been president. How much do you think that is really his fault? Is a complex dynamic. The fact that working-class white Americans has seen the quality of life going down -- the changes going through. He identified in all. I'm not so certain a Roosevelt or a Lincoln could have unified things as much. There are some serious divisions within us. Until prosperity is broader spread. That became his fundamental tipping point. He pointed out to a lot of the Republicans he was looking at lecturing them onto things. You guys know that is not working and you know you are playing a game. We need to get beyond that. But also his ultimate take away was don't know Donald Trump. Whatever my legacy don't let Tromp follow me. It is not in their time Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln were nighters. They were deeply polarizing figures. So is not as though running to the middle is what puts American presidents on Mount Rushmore. I thought that was curious. If I recall correctly I believe President. Obama in the early years of his administration got a lot of criticism for trying to reach too far across the aisle. Isn't that right? And negotiating with Republicans -- with a Congress that did not want to negotiate. The other part of that tenor was not that we have to agree on things but let's quit demonizing ourselves. Let's stop calling Republicans bashes and Democrat Socialist. We can agree on things and still work something out -- Anyone watching his speech could actually see evidence of that split in Washington. In the olden days like 10 years ago both sides of Congress would applaud common goals. Better educational opportunities, where unemployment -- now the GOP virtually doesn't applaud anything the president says. Why? I think the parties have clearly lined up on opposite sides. They know that any agreement with the other side is pointspread outside. I don't think this is completely new -- we have not seen join applause. More than ever he saw Democrats standing and applauding. And Republicans being quite comfortable in their seats. What did you hear in that speech specifically that you think made the point don't for -- vote for Tromp? The president is saying you should not be identifying based on ethnicity, immigration status, religion -- that sort of rhetoric diminishes us. Interestingly enough Nikki Haley the same point. That as an immigrant family -- we should embrace that. She is being savaged on the ultraconservative side of her own party. And Coulter wrote that Donald Trump should deport her. The president was trying to draw that divide. Some people have set the speech won't make any difference because the people who dislike the president so-called preacher tone will be put off by this as well. Do you think that is the case? I think those people are lost -- but there are those few Americans who are going to decide this election with persuasion will our -- are still reachable and there is also a matter of turning out the base. And for Democrats who might not be all that excited about Hillary Clinton -- the poll numbers, the strength of Bernie Sanders has shown how much Democrats are not asked excited about Hillary Clinton as they were about Barack Obama. He is trying to rally the troops. I have to end it there. I want to thank you both very much.

President Barack Obama opened his State of the Union speech saying he'd keep it short, in what must have seemed music to the ears of some in the chamber antsy to get to Iowa to campaign for president.

At times, Obama looked like he was one of them, eager to challenge biting criticism from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and other Republicans.

Obama was at turns boastful and biting, confident and sarcastic.


Anyone who says the economy is declining is "peddling fiction," he argued. Obama characterized skepticism about science and reluctance to adopt technology as absurd. "When the Russians beat us into space, we didn't deny Sputnik was up there," he said. Claims that U.S. stature in the world is shrinking, he virtually shouted, is "political hot air."

"The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth. Period. It's not even close. It's not even close!" the president declared.

The president's final turn at the House podium was his most high-profile entry yet into the presidential race to succeed him. After largely begging off the day-to-day skirmishes in the raucous contest, Obama showed he was more than ready to defend his record and happy to use one of his last chances to seize America's attention to show Democrats how he thinks it should be done.

Obama has more than his party's interest at heart. His legacy will be shaped by whether Americans choose a Democrat to succeed him and cement his signature heath care law, environmental policies and immigration programs. Democrat Hillary Clinton has tried to put some distance between her campaign and the president — often saying she's not running for his third term. That has at times left Obama as his own best defender.

The White House had billed Obama's speech as a rethinking of the genre, and delivered.


Obama eschewed a lengthy to-do list for Congress and any rollout of new policies. (White House officials have promised to reveal some new plans in the coming weeks, rather than pack them into one night.)

Obama only breezed through his remaining priorities — raising the minimum wage, overhauling the immigration system, tightening gun laws — even as he acknowledged they were unlikely to get done. He highlighted a few possible proposals with better chances — criminal justice reform and fighting prescription drug abuse.

"Who knows? We might surprise the cynics again," Obama said.

The flip comment was a reminder that the speech, like the president's final year in office, wasn't focused on Congress as much as on defending his accomplishments.

Obama took some clear shots at the cast of Republicans who've used him as a target for months.

He defended his handling of the rise of Islamic extremism and tried to temper anxieties about the Islamic State group.

"Over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands," Obama said. "We don't need to build them up to show that we're serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world's largest religions."

With an expected audience of some 30 million viewers, the speech was Obama's first of two chances to take Americans squarely by the shoulders and make his case for a Democratic successor. Not until his speech at the Democratic convention this summer, will Obama likely have such undivided attention again.

The case he delivered was not new. The president and his aides have been marveling for months at what they described as Republicans' gloom-and-doom vision. White House officials have labeled it both inaccurate and bad politics. Some of his arguments echoed the case he makes to donors at fundraising events.

In trying to present an optimistic alternative, Obama's speechwriters were mindful of not taking a victory lap. Americans hardly share his confidence in America's upward trajectory, polls show. In touting the economic recovery, in particular, Obama risks seeming out of touch.

"The president's record has often fallen far short of his soaring words," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in the Republican rebuttal. "As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We're feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities."

But the president showed he was ready to rebut such comments — once Democrats pick a candidate and he's unleashed on the trail.

Until then, as he told his audience of lawmakers and candidates, he understands the hankering to get back to Iowa.

"I've been there," he said with a grin. "I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kathleen Hennessey covers the White House for The Associated Press