“I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama said in the middle of a compelling oration devoted to the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together. In response, congressional Republicans in attendance applauded. The man who frustrated his base and others with his turn-the-other-cheek style thought for just a second before acknowledging their cheeky reaction with an ad-libbed rebuke. “I know, because I won both of them,” said the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win at least 51 percent of the vote twice.
Obama’s push-back came near the end of a speech that had none of the dread of its predecessors. It brimmed with good news and possessed optimism in the future that felt more like wishful thinking during the economic pain of the past.
Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years….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. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.
All the proposals the president laid out over the last 10 days or so were in the speech: free community college, paid sick leave, affordable child care. And so was the proposed tax increase on the upper reaches of the one-percent to finance a tax cut for the middle class and pay for his articulated ideas. What was remarkable was how freely Obama talked about what he wanted.
….[L]et’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.
Charges of “class warfare!” were ringing in my ears before he finished that “We can use that money” sentence. The fight to come over all of his proposals will be a test for him and for the GOP. Now fully in charge of Congress, the onus is on Republicans to show the country (and prove to themselves) they can govern. The last four years leave that ability in doubt.
Even though the president was bold in the ideas he put on the table and forceful in his presentation of them, there is no doubt that what Obama laid out was the start of a conversation with Congress not the end of it. A good ol’ negotiation. One where “we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts,” as the president said.
What Obama said after he delivered that improvised response to GOP cheekiness shouldn’t get lost in all the high-fiving on the left and the sneering on the right.
My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America. If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand. If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree. And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.
So now we wait to see if Republicans are ready to take “yes” for an answer. May it not be long.
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