President Obama went big in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Big on climate. Big on the economy. Big on equality – including, historically, equality for bisexual and transgender Americans. No longer tempering the politics of his presidency to support the iffy electoral prospects of rotten red-state Democrats like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Obama uncorked a speech full of populist vigor and “oh, snap” swag. The address was calibrated to delight his base, particularly in the gleeful way it trolled Republican haters. The mic-drop moment of the night came right after Obama said “I have no more campaigns to run.” Some GOP members jeered, but Obama silenced them with a quick-thinking ad-lib: “I know, because I won both of ’em.”
The line inspired one of the greatest .gifs of our era.
— Carla Astudillo (@carla_astudi) January 21, 2015
Here are the most savory morsels from the SOTU speech – and the sourest responses it drew from the other side of the aisle.
Obama delivered the most full-throated call to action on climate change, perhaps of his presidency, even as he parodied a top GOP talking point. Noting that 2014 was the hottest year on record, Obama said:
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”
Obama underscored the progress made under his watch, from the explosion in solar energy production to his historic climate accord with Beijing, and drew a line in the sand:
“I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”
In a reflective moment of the speech, Obama harkened back to his 2004 Democratic convention speech he gave calling on for unity among the Americans of red states and blue states – and noting self-satisfied pundits who see the country as more divided than ever. The president then took a victory lap on marriage equality, the civil rights triumph of our time:
“I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.”
Obama also wove into his defense of American leadership and values an historic shout-out to sexual minorities who’ve never been acknowledged on the State of the Union stage:
“That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”
President Obama used Tuesday’s speech to trumpet the American comeback story from the Great Recession – “The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said, “and the State of the Union is strong” – and rebuked the GOP obstructionists who attempted to pull his administration off course:
“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years. So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
…AND THE RESPONSES
The president’s speech drew predictably bilious responses from Republican politicians. The hating started early, before Obama even started his address, with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a man with presidential ambitions – and Internet grammar. Jindal tweeted:
I’ll save you 45 mins. Obama will decry Republicans, beat up on private business and argue for more “free stuff”. Your welcome. #SOTU2015“
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) January 21, 2015
Yes, he said “Your welcome.” Not to be outdone, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took a bitter side-swipe at the president’s celebration of shared economic prosperity, and his proposal for universal community college access, tweeting:
Middle class economics? Wonder if you’ll learn about that in free community college? #sotu
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) January 21, 2015
In the official Republican response to Obama’s address, freshman Iowa senator Joni Ernst focused on raising her profile for the 2016 veepstakes, with a biographic speech highlighting her hardscrabble roots, working the “biscuit line” at Hardees, and wearing bread bags over her one pair of good shoes – humble protection against the snowy winters of Iowa.
It was a salt-of-the-earth tale about the virtues of hard work and grand ambition. But it elided the most important fact about Joni Ernst’s political career. She didn’t pull herself up by her bread-bag bootstraps. She’s surfed a wave of oligarch cash sloshing through the Koch Brothers donor network.
As Ernst was caught on tape admitting at a Koch retreat last June: “The exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”