'Defiant' Obama Shapes His Liberal Legacy

Too little, too late, critics say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2015 5:16 AM CST
Updated Jan 21, 2015 7:40 AM CST
'Defiant' Obama Shapes Liberal Legacy
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress last night.   (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

President Obama was full of confidence during a State of the Union address last night that some pundits are calling a "victory lap," celebrating his most progressive policies and outlining an ambitious vision for the future. "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 15 years and for decades to come." Some reactions:

  • "Obama was speaking not just to the present but to the future, to the 2016 presidential elections and even beyond," writes the New York Times editorial board. "By simply raising the plight of the middle class (and, looming behind it, the larger issue of economic inequality), he has firmly inserted issues of economic fairness into the political debate," they write, describing his rhetoric as "combative, even defiant in parts"—but his proposal was far from radical.

  • The president, with an "unabashed pitch for expansive government action on the economy, scientific research, infrastructure, education, and the environment," made it clear he is committed to "cementing a liberal legacy" and will fiercely fight any attempts by the GOP-controlled Congress to roll back his achievements, writes Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post.
  • The fact that most of Obama's proposals have no hope of passing Congress wasn't lost on Jonah Goldberg at the National Review, who saw the speech as a well-delivered but unimpressive rollout of Obama's "golden oldies." It's one thing to claim to be against cynicism when you're a "rookie politician," he writes. "It's quite another to start the sixth year of your presidency cynically trolling the opposition with proposals you know cannot pass while decrying the political gamesmanship and partisanship of your opponents."
  • Some analysts compare last night's Obama to the Obama of 2004 or 2008, but Jamelle Bouie at Slate looks back a lot farther. Obama's "confident, assertive liberalism," he writes, strongly recalls the immediate postwar period when "Democratic governance was broadly popular and ascendant" and President Truman made it clear in his sixth SOTU address that government "has a place in securing prosperity and protecting ordinary people."
  • The "liberated and victorious" Obama of last night reminded Adam Kirk Edgerton at the Huffington Post of 2008, but while he found the speech "surprisingly moving," he thinks Obama has left it far too late to be remembered as a great liberal president. Obama "should have had the guts to stand up back during the midterms when it would have mattered to Democrats struggling to defend his record," he writes. "But I suppose it does feel good to sprint around the tracks, alone, when the race is already over."
(More Obama State of the Union address stories.)

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