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A businesslike State of the Union address

26 January 2011

9:08 AM

26 January 2011

9:08 AM

Jobs, people, work, new, years, make. You can get a good sense of Obama’s State of the Union
address
purely from its most frequently used words. Yes, this one was all about the future, and – another popular word – "investing"
in it. As the President himself put it, sounding like some freakish amalgam of David Cameron and Gordon Brown, "If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the
investments we need to win the future."


The President wasn’t short of ideas for the investment half of that equation, even if – as others have noted – there was an absence of specifics. He clumsily evoked the space race
("this is our generation’s Sputnik moment") when explaining why money should be channeled towards research and education. He added that taxpayers’ cash would be siphoned away from the oil
companies, and used to fund clean, renewable energy sources. And he emphasised the high-speed varieties of rail travel and internet access.

Yet, for all that, the crucial passage was on the deficit. As expected, Obama announced that domestic spending will be frozen for each of the next five years – saving $400 billion, he says.
But somewhat less expected was his praise for the work of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission. "I don’t agree with all their proposals," he said, "but they made important
progress." This presaged an upfront passage on "further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our
long-term deficit."

In terms of its tone, this was more businesslike than rhapsodic from Obama. Talk of deficits and spending priorities tends to turn many politicians into stone cold pragmatists – and the
President of the United States is no different. His speech was littered with inclusive references to the Republicans, and with exhortations to cross-party cooperation. Another attempt to rise above
all that Washington stuff, sure. But also, surely, a recognition that both sides will need to converge if this deficit reduction plan is to make any progress.


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