Barack Obama’s 2013 State Of The Union Address
He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
This year, Barack Obama’s State Of The Union Address is also an overture to his second term in office as the 44th President of the United States. Topics addressed in his SOTU include the state of the economy, immigration reform, foreign policy, the use of drones, dealing with gun violence in America, and solutions to climate change. Find my reflection on Obama at the begining of his second term below, the SOTU and more links further below.
Speeches Project Images, Not Realities
Anyone who has observed Obama giving speeches, except perhaps at the beginning of the past televised debates with Mitt Romney, knows that he is a great performer. His speechwriters are incredibly skillful at creating powerful history-laden images and evoking emotions. This is how they work and what they are supposed to do.
But while ritualized political speeches such as the State Of The Union Address do count as symbols, we as observers and students of these texts should try not to let our senses be clouded by those masterful emotional appeals. This is difficult, because as human beings, we are hard-wired to respond emotionally.
Nonetheless, a rational look at the factual first-term record of the Obama administration is much more revealing in regards to its true character. Political speeches, at the end of the day, are rather a reflection of the image that a speaker wants to project of themself than an accurate representation of what they actually do.
Some Social Progress At Home, But No Departure From Neo-conservative Disregard For Civil Liberties
Nobody can seriously expect any politician to fulfill all campaign promises, but watching Obama the vocal liberal-minded critic of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ policies transform into an accomplice and protector of those responsible for the torture architecture, and later granting himself powers to execute even US citizens on a clandestine kill list via the NDAA is quite frightening.
You can read about the discrepancy between the image of 2008 candidate Barack Obama and the actions of President Barack Obama it in my earlier blog posts here and here, or at exhaustive length at Obama the Conservative, a website that chronicles (with sources) how except on some social issues (the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, advocacy for gay marriage), the current POTUS has embraced and in some cases (such as executions by drone) expanded questionable policies of the Bush/Cheney administration.
To be clear: I am not downplaying the threat posed by militant religious extremism in the world today, as no sane observer would. Neither am I denying the necessity of an ideological, sometimes even violent confrontation between liberal democracy as a system and militant theocrats, be they states or non-state actors. But in the pursuit of this objective, the advocates of liberty must not abandon their ideals. Collateral damage tends to create new enemies.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil“, Aphorism 146 (1886)
In my opinion, the neoconservative dictum of ‘taking off the gloves’—throwing out the rule of law and justifying activities like mass surveillance, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings—in the name of protecting democracy is not only a farce but destructive to democracy.
Any authoritarian regime in the history of the world has justified similar actions by claiming that it acted for the benefit of its own people. Brought to its logical conclusion, the maintenance of the illusion of total security ultimately brings with it the reality of total surveillance.
The realization of the many continuities in the ‘War on Terror’ between the current and the previous administration is troublesome, especially considering that in 2008, Barack Obama ran as a civil liberties candidate who criticized the Bush administration for its conduct.
A Brand Image Is Not The Actual Product
Despite perhaps the greatest political campaign in recent times (in 2008), the ‘product’ Obama has proven not to be what its packaging promised. And I say this as someone who was, maybe somewhat naively, quite enthusiastic about the election result at the time. Of course, a government is and should be a complex construct with more agents than a head of state influencing the general direction. But to think that Obama had no hand at all in steering the course throughout the past four years would be a misjudgment as well.
Watch Obama’s 2013 State Of The Union Address here:
The 2013 SOTU, from the New York Times:
Speeches by Politicians opposing Obama:
“Marco Rubio as the anti-Mitt Romney.” (Jonathan Martin, Politico, 2013/02/13)
“Marco Rubio response fact check.” (Darren Samuelsohn and Joanne Kenen, Politico, 2013/02/13)
“Rubio, A New Face, Delivers A Familiar Message In Response To Obama.” (Liz Halloran, NPR, 2013/02/12)
“FactChecking Obama’s SOTU.” (FactCheck, 2013/02/13)
“Fact-checking the State of the Union address.” (PolitiFact, 2013/02/12)
“State of the Union analysis: Aggressive speech, even more aggressive message.” (Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico, 2013/02/13)
“How To Watch President Obama’s 2013 State Of The Union Address Online Tonight.” (John Paul Titlow, ReadWrite, 2013/02/12)
“Obama’s Agenda: Incremental Progress, not Sweeping Initiatives.” (Ron Fournier, The Atlantic, 2013/02/12)
“Obama Pledges Push to Lift Economy for Middle Class.” (Mark Landler, New York Times, 2013/02/12)
“Obama To Congress: With Or Without You.” (Alan Greenblatt, NPR, 2012/02/12)
“Obama to Push Split Congress to Act on Guns and Economy.” (Michael D. Shear, New York Times, 2013/02/12)
“State Of the Union Address 2013 5 Topics Obama Will Discuss.” (Adam Jutha, PolicyMic, 2013/02/12)
State of the Union Portal (New York Times) – Many resources on the topic, including useful links to archives of past SOTU speeches.
Auf Deutsch/In German:
“Rede zur Lage der Nation: Obama lässt sich nichts mehr bieten.” (Sebastian Fischer, Spiegel Online, 13.02.2013)