WASHINGTON, DC — President Barack Obama made a feisty pitch for economic populism in his penultimate State of the Union Tuesday night, touting the improving economy on his watch and making the case that government has a role in ensuring equal opportunity for all.
“At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” he said.
“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come,” he said. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Obama argued that a raft of new policy proposals — which include an ambitious plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and financial institutions to pay for progressive priorities — favor the middle class, and that “middle-class economics works.”
It’s a defiant speech for the President, now freed from the shackles of vulnerable red-state Democrats up for re-election and looking to burnish his legacy in his final two years.
At the heart of his message is a Robin Hood-style plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans’ investments and financial institutions and use that money to foot the bill for free community college tuition and new tax credits for child care and two-worker households.
That proposal stands next to no chance of clearing Congress. But — along with campaign-style events and interviews with YouTube stars touting his initiatives both before and after the speech — Democrats hope Obama’s decision to play up the parties’ philosophical differences will remind Republicans who now control both the House and the Senate of the political force they couldn’t overcome in 2008 and 2012.
Obama also planned to say that “American leadership, including our military power” has played a key role in stopping ISIS, and called on Congress to authorize the use of military force against the group in Iraq and Syria.
“Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. … This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”
Republicans, though, see a President in denial — one who hasn’t learned anything from the shellacking that cost his party the Senate in November; whose veto threats and tax-and-spend proposals are a lame duck flailing as his influence fades.
The President’s “proposals are so out of touch you have to ask if there is any point to the speech,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted.