It is probably hard in an economic situation like this, in a geopolitical situation like this and in a domestic situation like this to address what has been done in the past year and to outline directions for the future development of the nation. It is hard because you have to respond to a heterogeneous audience in only one address, fully aware that every word of yours will be carefully studied by journalists, analysts, political opponents, inner-party competition, partners abroad. And indeed, every word is important when you are the president of the United States of America - the country that insists on keeping its leading role in global politics and economy.
Barack Obama has chosen the voters
Facing the choice to pay a special attention to the overseas audience, the American president, who is hoping for a second term in the White House, has chosen to speak directly to the voters. This is why his this year's State of the Union Address practically repeated his recent speeches on promoting his jobs plan, presented last summer. The United States is suffering from the highest unemployment rate for a decade now, that has remained unchanged for 3 years now - 8.5% in January 2012 alone but for the last 3 years it was around 9% and above. This is precisely why Mr Obama has come up with a comprehensive plan to boost jobs creation, the alternative name of which is "Made in America".
Behind the plan there is hope that it would not make the diminishing number of his supporters withdraw their support and that they will vote for him at the presidential elections in 2012. The task will be difficult because the high unemployment is a milestone in the campaigns of the candidates for the nomination of the Republican Party for the presidential elections. The four remaining candidates - Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum - never omit a chance to mention how many Americans are without a job today and how President Obama is doing nothing to solve the problem.
This is why the issue of employment and equal opportunities emerged as central for Obama during his address on January 24 before Congress. ".... the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement. The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important", the American president explained, not missing to respond to the criticisms of his Republican rivals: "In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs. And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs".
According to American analysts, Barack Obama has for the first time dared to "excuse himself" with his legacy - something, which he never resorted to. When he won the elections in 2008 Obama sat at the desk in the Oval office in the White House in the peak of the world financial and economic crisis. This is why one of his first decisions was related to pouring billions of dollars in support of the economy. Money which never managed to pay back. Although the economy has been growing, this growth is weak and unsustainable. In the summer of 2011 Mr Obama resorted again to the budget money in the peak of the budget deficit crisis of the US in order to invest in public jobs - for teachers, police officers, construction workers of public infrastructure projects.
In fact, his entire 65-minute long speech was playing on the thinnest of strings of the taxpayers. Yet from the outset the president mentioned the withdrawal of the US military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan - a promise which was broadly relayed in his election campaign in 2008. After paying tribute to the servicemen and the thousands of victims, Obama said: "For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country". This sentence caused vehement applause in the room and people were getting on their feet. In the beginning of the summer of 2011 it was reported that Osama bin Laden was found but when attempting to be caught he was shot dead, which did not leave too many possibilities for a fair trial and even less to verify the facts. Osama bin Laden's body was immediately buried according to Muslim traditions - thrown into the sea.
One of the main reasons for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq disappeared with his body - the decapitation of Al Qaeda, which is the basis of America's war on terror. Obama emphasised on the fact that all this was possible thanks to the united efforts of the military and the state structures, who did excellent teamwork. After the applause in Congress faded, the president started to dream: "Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example [of the military]. Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded".
Such an America is President Obama promising for his second term. This is why he stressed very strongly on America's relations with the world, on own energy and spoke in detail about an issue painfully familiar in Bulgaria too - extraction of shale gas.
The good and the bad news in foreign policy
Regarding his vision on foreign policy, Barack Obama also had a very difficult task because during his 3-year long presidency the world had a rest, the country's image improved sensibly and US's international partners started to feel that America can support them and not threaten them. Alas, this type of policy is heavily criticised at home. The Republican hardliners and all candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have the foreign policy visions of the old hawk school - preemptive strikes, relentless policy and if necessary military action. Obama is even frequently accused by his Republican rivals that he has turned into a European, obviously this is already a dirty word in the US.
Therefore in his speech on Tuesday night there was an attempt to respond to everyone: "We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about". The latter sentence is a direct attack on the criticism of the Republican candidates and evoked wild applause in the room. The attack went further:
"That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years. Yes, the world is changing. No, we can’t control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs –- and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way", vowed Barack Obama.
In the same time, however, the tried to demonstrate a little bit of a more aggressive rhetoric, which was obviously aimed at leaving his Republican adversaries short of argument that his foreign policy is weak. During his address he announced the first new thing - the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit, the functions of which will be to investigate unfair trade practises in countries like China. The unit will conduct inspections in order to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods. Moreover, the president did not hesitate to throw the ball back in the Republicans' playing field, who are controlling the lower chamber of Congress - the House of Representatives - by saying: "And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you -– America will always win!"
Mr Obama is the first American president for a lot of time who is innovative, listens to the trends and is trying to anticipate them. This is also the president who has several books in his CV, written back in the time when he was a senator from Illinois. Probably this is the reason why one of the Republican candidates, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, to call him contemptuously "the intellectual president". Barack Obama resorted to maybe an intellectual or maybe purely populist rhetoric to attack his opponents by holding his hand out and calling on them to work together with him for achieving the common goals.
"Which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind". After this statement he called on Republicans and Democrats to unite their efforts, especially on matters that directly concern the nation. In order to enhance his arguments he gave the example that in his administration he worked with opponents of his - Robert Gates, who was a secretary of defence under George Bush, and Hillary Clinton who was his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and now she is a secretary of state.
Obama is the first president in other areas too who is undertaking measures that are being better accepted overseas than at home - energy. If until recently presidents in a row were ready to dispatch the army in order to secure a non disruption of oil deliveries, Obama's credo is "we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy". He again said that the development of natural gas reserves must be a major priority because this creates jobs, powers trucks and factories and provides cleaner and cheaper energy. Part of these efforts, though, are directed to the shale rocks where there are natural gas reserves, the extraction of which takes place via a disputed technology. So disputed that in Bulgaria it lead to huge protests against shale gas extraction and in the end of the day to a division of society.
According to Barack Obama, however, for the last 30 years the investments in technologies for natural gas extraction from shale rocks are a proof that it is very important to assist business to come up with new "energy ideas". "Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away. Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. [...] I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here".
In the end, the president concluded emotionally by again calling for unity for the sake of the common American interest. It seems that this served the purpose because the Republican response registered all of this: it praised the president for focusing on education, for handling Osama bin Laden and an acknowledgement that he was not the reason for the fiscal and economic crisis. However, for three years now, the Republican party statement says, he has been unable to tackle unemployment and has caused an explosion of spending of borrowed money, which is inadmissible given the existing debt levels.
Against the backdrop of the one-hour-long speech, the Republicans' response was 12 minutes long and it also contained a call for leaving the differences aside but under one condition: if we do not embark on a pro-jobs policy, pro-growth policy "we will not have the needed money to pay the social price of as big government as we decide. Everyone who joins us for the cause of growth, is our friend. We will speak the language of unity. Any other difference can wait", is the republicans' response.