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State Of The Union: Obama Looks To Energize His Base And Cement His Legacy

Alec White |
January 29, 2014 | 4:31 p.m. PST

Guest Contributor

(Screenshot, Hannah Maddans)
(Screenshot, Hannah Maddans)
Given recent polling data showing declining popularity nationwide and within President Obama’s base of supporters, much was at stake during yesterday evening’s State of the Union Address. With three years left in his term and with the upcoming midterm elections where control of the Senate is in play and his long term legacy at stake, President Obama re-asserted his role as President in his State of the Union Address. He outlined his accomplishments throughout his tenure and then launched into his goals for the future. 

In previous State of the Union addresses, the President directly challenged Congress to act on measures such as gun control, healthcare and other programs.  Yesterday evening, the President struck a different tone by positively highlighting his accomplishments while in office:  he reduced the deficit by more than $700 billion; 8 million jobs were created in the U.S. in the last four years; and the troops came home from Iraq and are coming home from Afghanistan.

He then went into a laundry list of proposals he wants Congress to support and how he wants to act on them in a bi-partisan way. This consolatory tone would only go so far, he warned, as he is willing, through presidential executive orders, to move forward on certain policies without Congress. His strongest push came in a minimum wage increase proposal. He urged Republicans to join the rest of Americans and support a raise. Unlike some issues which are divided 50/50 nationwide, a minimum wage increase is supported by almost 75 percent of Americans. During the 2012 election, President Obama was able to win swing states such as Ohio by portraying Governor Romney as out of touch with lower income Americans and this minimum wage increase, if opposed by the tea party and the GOP-led Congress, would enable the President to continue that narrative going into the 2014 mid-term elections.

SEE ALSO: College Republicans And Democrats On Obama's State Of The Union

Another issue which helped Obama win in 2012 and which is important to his Democratic base is immigration reform, and the President pushed for that as well. He was not as aggressive as with minimum wage, as there are some Republicans who support a comprehensive solution. The Senate passed immigration reform through a bipartisan vote and the bill sits now in the House where a solution is possible. 

In addition to highlighting his major accomplishments, President Obama responded to criticism from Republicans and members of his own party. The politically hot issue of the Affordable Care Act required President Obama to explain how it saved the life of one woman and how 3 million young people can be covered on their parents’ plans until the age of 26. With website problems dying down, the Affordable Care Act is not as negative as it was in November, but is still an issue President Obama needed to address in a positive way to energize his base of supporters and to curtail GOP negative campaigning as we move closer to the midterms.  

Most pundits expected a speech focused on income inequality, immigration reform, the wage gap between men and women and the Affordable Care Act. The President addressed those issues, yet he also discussed climate change.  He described progress on reducing carbon emissions and creating fuel-efficient cars while emphasizing that “climate change is a fact!” While it is unlikely the Tea Party-dominated House will support a climate change bill, President Obama emphasized his reforms to energize his base and to create a legacy on an issue that will dominate the planet for the rest of the century and beyond.

SEE ALSO: 5 Bests And Worsts Of The State Of The Union

The President addressed foreign policy head on and took credit for accomplishments and other unresolved issues. While he highlighted U.S. progress against nuclear weapons in Iran, he also acknowledged he had less success with Syria. Stung by criticism from many on the Left regarding drone use in foreign countries, President Obama explained his plans to fix the drone program. 

Overall, President Obama gave an effective speech: he showed he can fight Congress if needed and, again, he appealed to his base and to independent voters by focusing on climate change, minimum wage, women’s issues and foreign policy. 

I believe that his goal was to keep control of the Senate and to cement his long-term legacy. I believe he made a giant step in the right direction, but only time will tell.


Alec White is the Political Director for the USC College Democrats. Reach him here. See the SOTU response by the USC College Republicans here.



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Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.