“I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy,” Obama said. “The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans.
The president’s economic focus differed somewhat in tone from his second inaugural address last month. In that speech, he argued forcefully for social equality, including an expansion of gay rights.
Yet Obama also addressed the divisive issues that have dominated much of the public debate in recent weeks, renewing his call for comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration system and for a variety of proposals to reduce gun violence, including universal background checks and an assault-weapons ban.
The gun issue, thrust into the public discourse by the recent mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was to be a major subtext of the evening. First lady Michelle Obama’s guest list included a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the massacre took place, a police officer who responded to the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and the parents of a girl killed by gunfire in Chicago this month.
The first lady attended the funeral on Saturday for the slain Chicago teen, Hadiya Pendleton, who had performed with her high school’s majorette team last month at the president’s second inaugural.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was gravely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011 in Tucson and is now a gun-control activist, attended with her husband, Mark Kelly. Democratic lawmakers also brought shooting victims from their home states to sit in the gallery, while on the Republican side, fiery conservative rocker Ted Nugent attended as a guest of Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.).
Nugent told an April convention of the National Rifle Association — which is fiercely resisting Obama’s gun-control initiatives — that he would end up “dead or in jail” if Obama was reelected.
In delivering his fourth State of the Union speech, Obama was also facing the weight of history. Rarely have State of the Union addresses moved public opinion, and rarely have they led to the kind of broad legislative accomplishments that presidents propose.
“Most of the speeches can be summarized in three words: boring, boring, boring,” said Allan Lichtman, author of “The 13 Keys to the Presidency.” “They tend to be laundry lists. But sometimes they rise above that.”
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