The Annotated 2013 State of the Union

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Here is the paradox of Barack Obama's "eloquence": Friends and foes alike recognize that oratory has played an unusally large part in his political ascent. It is beyond question that one 17-minute speech put him on the national map -- his debut address at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004. Sometime you should go back and watch that speech again. Nearly nine years later, it is startling how different Obama himself looks -- and how absolutely unchanged his message, language, phraseology, and cadence remain.

(Bonus karmic reminder: That was John Kerry's convention to run, so it was thanks to him that Obama had this shot at national attention. After Kerry lost to George W. Bush, he was one of the first Democratic grandees to think that young Senator Obama could be a plausible contender for the nomination in 2008. Thus on many levels Kerry must have felt that he had "earned" his new role as Obama's secretary of state.)

President Obama lays out his second-term vision for America. See full coverage

Back to Obama as a speaker: In addition to that first address, which made his reputation, another speech clearly saved his campaign when it was in genuine danger of collapse. That was of course what we think of as the "Race in America" speech -- the actual title was, "A More Perfect Union" -- which he gave in Philadelphia five years ago next month when the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah "God damn America!" Wright was threatening to torpedo Obama's prospects. For the record, think of some of the other speeches that have played an important part either in Obama's campaign successes or in the shape of his presidency. There's a reason I'm reminding you of this list.

  • His Jefferson-Jackson Dinner stemwinder in Des Moines, in November 2007, which was a big energizing step toward his success in the Iowa caucuses, which in turn was his crucial breakthrough in the primaries.
  • His "future of Islam" speech in Cairo six months into his presidency (official title: "A New Beginning,"), and a few months later his improbable Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. This was improbable both in his selection as laureate and in the theme he chose to emphasize, which included a defense of war as a means toward peace.
  • His all-out pitch on behalf of his health-care bill before a Joint Session of Congress a few months before the hair's-breadth passage of the bill
  • His "national healer" speeches after the shootings in Tucson two years ago and Newtown two months ago
  • His continuous run of speeches, starting with one in Osawotomie, Kansas, in December 2011 and reaching through his second inaugural address last month and his State of the Union address this week (but not including his unremarkable convention speech last summer), all of which advanced the case for his economic agenda. This is the agenda he would characterize as "growing from the middle class out" and that the Republicans would characterize/caricature as "you didn't build that."

Speeches matter at every level of politics, and anyone who makes it to the presidency has to have scored some big rhetorical successes along the path to victory. Even my one-time employer, Jimmy Carter, who was not known for the brilliance of his formal orations from the White House, had been a mesmerizing extemporaneous speaker on the campaign trail, especially through the primaries. That was a big part of why he won. 

Hillary Clinton might seem to work against this theory, since she has built her reputation and popularity on things other than big, memorable speeches. But of course she has not yet made it to the presidency, and if she eventually does, there will presumably be some big, successful speeches along the way.

But given that formal speeches make up a bigger part of Obama's still-unfolding legacy than, say, Bill Clinton's, note this remarkable fact: You can barely remember a word of what he says.

Obama's eloquence exists almost exclusively on the macro scale -- the overall impression he gives of the subject he is wrestling with, and of his own temperament and cast of mind. You could take John Kennedy as the opposite extreme; his speeches are far more memorable, and quotable, for epigrammatic phrases than for their more elaborated thoughts. Abraham Lincoln may be the one example in our public life of success at both levels. His first and second inaugural addresses, plus the Gettysburg Address, are considered in a class of their own because they combine lasting beauty of phrasing -- "malice toward none," "mystic chords of memory," "government of the people, by the people, for the people," "every drop of blood drawn by the lash" -- with depth of thought.

No one else can play in Lincoln's league -- and, perhaps in growing awareness of that fact, as Obama's career has gone on he has been more careful and sparing in drawing connections between himself and another young legislator-become-president from Illinois. (Six years ago, in his original announcement speech in Springfield, he said, "In the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States." Tuesday night, in the U.S. Capitol, on the 204th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, Obama did not mention his name.) Still, the point remains that for a famous orator, Obama is remarkably hard to quote.

The line I thought I remembered from his 2004 convention speech -- "not red states, nor blue states, but the United States of America" -- he never actually said. The real passage went this way: "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there's the United States of America." Red states and blue states did make their appearance in a nice package -- but, again, not one that's quotable in the way that "only thing we have to fear" or "tear down this wall" or even "axis of evil" is.

For the record, here's the way the blue/red states appeared:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an "awesome God" in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.

We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

I remember the ideas from many of Obama's speeches -- and the effect and arguments from several of the speeches taken in sequence. But if you remember specific sentences from any of them, you're ahead of me.

Which brings us to this latest speech:

  • It seemed longer than it actually was -- only about an hour of actual speaking time, "terse" by modern SOTU standards -- mainly because so much of it, roughly the first 50 minutes or nearly 90 percent of the whole, was laid out in unadorned, formulaic, "moving now to item No. 16 on my policy list" fashion, and often delivered in a perfunctory tone.
  • But inside that plain wrapping was more substantive news than SOTUs traditionally contain, and news at two levels. First, on the item-by-item basis, Obama offered a notably large number of specific proposals ($9/hour minimum wage, universal preschool, climate efforts, new accountability standards for colleges, etc.). Here he may have been taking advantage of a principle that Bill Clinton established in his filibuster-length SOTU in 1995. Immediately after the speech, commentators mocked Clinton for his numbing prolixity, but TV ratings and polls showed that ordinary viewers stayed with Clinton through the address and actually liked the piling-up of detail.
  • Second, on the strategic level, Obama continued the shift to a "No More Mr. Nice Guy" approach signalled in his second inaugural address. The Atlantic Wire's Dashiell Bennett has chronicled exactly this evolution, 'from the 2009 leader who politely hoped his ideas would pass, to a president simply telling Congress what he wants them to do."
  • Then, startlingly, he shifted for the final six minutes of the speech to the one rhetorically and emotionally powerful stretch of his presentation. This was the "they deserve a vote!" sequence about the families and communities ravaged by gun violence. (More about that below.)
  • In short, this is a speech that will be remember rhetorically only for its ending -- if for anything at all, but again most SOTUs are not memorable. On substance it will be memorable, or not, entirely depending on whether Obama is able to make good on the goals and commitments he has set out on issues ranging from climate change to gun-safety legislation.

Let's go to the text!


State of the Union Address[a]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Washington, DC[b]

As Prepared for Delivery -  

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens[c]:  

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress[d]...It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union - to improve it is the task of us all."  

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report.  After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.  After years of grueling recession[e], our businesses have created over six million new jobs.  We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections[f] than ever before.[g]

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger[h].  

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.  Our economy is adding jobs - but too many people still can't find full-time employment.  Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs - but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

It is our generation's task,[i] then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. [j] 

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few[k]; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don't expect government to solve every problem.  They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party[l]. hey do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.[m]

Our work must begin [n]by making some basic decisions about our budget - decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion - mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  As a result, we are more than halfway[o] towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.    

Now we need to finish the job.  And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars' worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.  These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.  They'd devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.  That's why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as "the sequester,"[p] are a really bad idea.  

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.  

That idea is even worse[q].  Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population.  And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms [r]- otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.  

But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful.  We won't grow the middle class [s]simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.  Most Americans - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents - understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity[t].  They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share[u].   And that's the approach I offer tonight.  

On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings[v] by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.  The reforms I'm proposing go even further.  We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors[w].  We'll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn't be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital - they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.  And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don't violate the guarantee of a secure retirement.  Our government shouldn't make promises we cannot keep - but we must keep the promises we've already made[x].  

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.  After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks?  How is that fair?  How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit[y].  A The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can't pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries[z]; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.  That's what tax reform can deliver.  That's what we can do together.[aa]

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won't be easy.  The politics will be hard for both sides.  None of us will get 100 percent of what we want[ab].  But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans.  So let's set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future.  And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.  Bhe greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.  [ac]Wet's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America[ad].  The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda.  But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan[ae].  A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star[af] that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation:  How do we attract more jobs to our shores?  How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?  And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs.  I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest.  Tonight, I'll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago.  Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.  It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government[ag] that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Our first priority [ah]is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.  

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan.  Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home.  And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again[ai].

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend.  Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.  There's no reason this can't happen in other towns.  So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America[aj].

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.  Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful.  Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.  Now is the time to reach a level of research and development[ak] not seen since the height of the Space Race.  And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.  

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.  We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.  We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar - with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than ever before - and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it.  And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.[al]

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change[am]. Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late. [an]   

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain[ao] and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. [ap]will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it.  We've begun to change that.  Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.  So let's generate even more.  Solar energy gets cheaper by the year - so let's drive costs down even further.  As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we[aq].

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.  That's why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits[ar].  But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.  

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good[as].  If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals [at]can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long.  I'm also issuing a new goal for America: let's cut in half the energy wasted[au] by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.  he states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.  Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids.  The CEO of Siemens America - a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina - has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs.  And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts.  I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.[av] 

Tonight, I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country[aw].  And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children[ax].  Met's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America.  And let's start right away[ay].

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector.  Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007.  Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.  

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected.  Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no.  That's holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it.  Right now, there's a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today's rates.  Democrats and Republicans have supported it before.  What are we waiting for?  Take a vote, and send me that bill.[az] Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home.  What's holding us back?[ba]  Let's streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs.  But none of it will matter unless we also equip[bb] our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.  And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.  

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America[bc]. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on[bd] - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.  Let's give our kids that chance.

Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM[be], students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.  

We need to give every American student opportunities like this.  Four years ago, we started Race to the Top - a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math - the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education.  It's a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure they do.  Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid[bf].  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new "College Scorecard" that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require.  But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.  And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform[bg].  

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made - putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.  

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship - a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy[bh]

In other words, we know what needs to be done.  As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts.  Now let's get this done.  Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.[bi] 

But we can't stop there.  We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.  Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago.  SI urge the House to do the same.  And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.[bj] 

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day's work with honest wages.  But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year.  Even with the tax relief we've put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.  That's wrong.  That's why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. [bk] This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.  It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.  For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.  In fact, working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher.  So here's an idea that Governor Romney[bl] and I actually agreed on last year: let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, [bm]so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let's also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it's virtually impossible to get ahead.  Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up.  Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job.  America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny.  And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let's offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who've got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance.  Let's put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods.  And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.  We'll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing.  We'll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.  And we'll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood - because what makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one. [bn]

Stronger families.  Stronger communities.  A stronger America.  It is this kind of prosperity - broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class - that has always been the source of our progress at home.  It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world. [bo]

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.  Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women.  This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead.  Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan.  This drawdown will continue.  And by the end of next year, our war[bp] in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change.  We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.[bq]  Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged - from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa.  The threat these groups pose is evolving.  But to meet this threat, we don't need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations.  Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.  And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight.  That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework[br] to guide our counterterrorism operations.  Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.  I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we're doing things the right way.  So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don't end with al Qaeda. [bs] America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons.  The regime in North Korea[bt] must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise,[bu] the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary[bv] to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.  At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands - because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.  e know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mail.  We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.  Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.[bw]  We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.  

That's why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.  Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.  

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today's world presents not only dangers, but opportunities[bx]. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union - because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.  

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.  I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon [by]- When Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, "There is justice and law in the United States.  I want our country to be like that."

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.  In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.  The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can - and will - insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people.  We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.[bz]  And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.[ca]  These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk - our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  As long as I'm Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world.[cb] We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.  We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families - gay and straight. [cc] We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters[cd], because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.  We will keep faith with our veterans - investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.  And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.[ce]

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone.[cf] We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.  That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote.[cg]  Bhen any Americans - no matter where they live or what their party - are denied that right simply because they can't[ch] wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  That's why, tonight, I'm announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  And I'm asking two long-time experts in the field, who've recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it.  We can fix this, and we will.  The American people demand it.  And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I've said tonight matters little if we don't come together to protect our most precious resource - our children.  

It has been two months since Newtown.[ci]  I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different.  Overwhelming majorities of Americans - Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment - have come together around commonsense reform - like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.  Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.  Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.  If you want to vote no, that's your choice.  But these proposals deserve a vote.  Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.  She was 15 years old.  She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss.  She was a majorette.  She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.  Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration.  And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence.  They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I've outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.[cj] We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez.  When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring - they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor.  When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours.  And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say.  Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her.  Because Desiline is 102 years old.  And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read "I Voted."[ck]

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy.  When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety.  He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside - even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, "That's just the way we're made."

That's just the way we're made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us.  But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens.  It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status.  It describes the way we're made.  It describes what we believe.  It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story[cl]

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

[a] 

As always at the beginning of these events, we have our moments of stagecraft and physical drama. Which congressmen and senators will have queued early enough and pushed aggressively enough to be within handshake-and-hug range of the president as he makes his way down the aisle? Which of them will he recognize and be able to call out by name, as opposed to the generic "Good to see you!"? Will the president insist on the "double ovation" -- the first one when the doorkeeper of the House announces his arrival and he walks into the room, and the second after the speaker makes the ritual announcement that he has the "high honor and distinct privilege of introducing the president of the United States"?

Sometimes presidents let the second ovation run as long as it will last; this time, Obama tried to hush it down almost immediately, so he could get into his pitch.

[b] 

The additional bit of stage business always involves the comportment of the vice president and the speaker of the House. For nearly 90 minutes they are on tens of millions of television screens -- but they're in a downside-only predicament where the best they can hope for is to seem unobtrusively alert (or at least awake, and upright) most of the time, and suitably enthusiastic and supportive at crucial moments.

When the two come from different parties, as they obviously do now, there's a built-in barometer for how the speech is playing with the respective parties, based on the smiles, frowns, applause, and decisions to stand-while-applauding that come from the two sides. And when the two are characters as expressive as Joe Biden and John Boehner -- well, think how much more interesting this part is to watch than the Denny Hastert/Dick Cheney lineup we had through most of the early 2000s.

[c] 

Interesting touch. Usually presidents, including Obama in several previous SOTUs, begin with "fellow Americans" rather than "fellow citizens."

Let's make it a Rorschach test. Some people will see that Obama, with that last nettlesome election finally behind him, can begin to reveal his true distance from mainstream American values. Others, that we have a sly subliminal introduction of the theme of citizenship that will run through much of the speech. Or maybe the people in charge of this speech simply forgot to look at the way the previous ones had started off. My money is on some combo of theories two and three.

[d] 

Ah, our old friend, the rhetorical device usually called "antithesis." Not X but Y, not yesterday but tomorrow, not an ending but a new beginning. It is not perplexing but predictable that this would show up in a quote from JFK, since he went for this kind of pairing in a big way.

[e] 

Two notable points about this passage. First, the "grit," "grinding," "grueling" sequence cannot be accidental and is very nice.

Second, a big sustained cheer for the "men and women in uniform are coming home" line. Everyone quickly rises for a standing ovation, including -- unusually -- the Supreme Court justices who have shown up. Given how controversial everything about Iraq and Afghanistan has been for more than a decade, a very striking demonstration of unanimity on wanting U.S. exposure in both countries to end.

[f] 

This is the SOTU's version of poetry, at least in the bureaucratic sense. He manages to allude briefly to some of his major achievements, or ongoing fights, involving Obamacare and financial regulations in general.

[g] 

Only tepid applause here, which in other times might have been another prompt for everyone to rise and cheer.

[h] 

As we've chronicled over the years, SOTU kabuki means that every address needs to include some variant on the "State of the Union is ... " line. Almost always the desired ending to that sentence is "strong."

This is either a clever or a clumsy twist on the familiar approach. "Stronger" -- implying progress, but leaving "stronger than" undefined. Also, Obama delivers what is usually one of the big lines of a speech in an off-hand, under-stressed way.

[i] 

The concept in this paragraph is the one he's tried to make the theme of his presidency since the Kansas speech 15 months ago. "Our generation's task" casts it in appropriately SOTU-esque terms. Biden and Boehner both applaud the line.

[j] 

Fascinating mark of the times: Obama delivers "who you love" in completely matter-of-fact terms, and no one in the hall reacts either pro or con. Just a fact of life now. In these ways do we observe political and cultural change.

[k] 

I won't cite every occurrence of this theme, but again this is Obama 2.0 -- his theme since Kansas, and also his incorporation of Bill Clinton's message and style, both when Clinton was in office and when Clinton was wheeled in to invigorate this year's Democratic Convention.

[l] 

We're back in the "antithesis" business here again. Also, Obama trying to position Republicans as opposing common-sense agreement, and so on. Biden stands and applauds this line. Boehner stays in his chair.

Recurring theme: Biden is having a good time here. Boehner is being stoic but is not enjoying himself.

[m] 

If you go back and listen to his 2004 speech again, you'll hear many of these same lines.

[n] 

Classic SOTU transition sentence. Linking the set-up you've just given to your next list of policy proposals.

[o] 

Non-speech aside: Two years ago, in the middle of a recession, American politics was seized by the idea that the gravest threat to our future was federal deficits -- as opposed to joblessness, infrastructure-decline, or so on.

Now it's a secondary theme -- even, strikingly, in Marco Rubio's official response for the Republican Party.

[p] 

Obama utters this word with an appropriately "reporting to you from the middle of the alternative universe that is Washington" tone.

[q] 

Democrats cheering. Republicans, not.

[r] 

Of course the politics of this year and many years to come will turn on the definitions of "modest" and "reforms" in this context.

[s] 

For the record, I still hate the use of "grow" as a transitive verb meaning "increase." "Grow my crops," fine. "Grow the middle class," yuck. But on the content, this sentence and the next few paragraphs are the heart of Obama's budget-and-economy theme. Point one: America has to grow [intransitive!] from the middle-class outward. Point two: You can't make that happen mainly with cuts.

[t] 

Now this is interesting. When politicians, including Obama, begin down the "most Americans understand ... " trail, they usually are analogizing government spending to a household's budget. And since the government has different functions and imperatives from a household, that comparison often leads to grief. Here is making a different point -- anti-austerity, Keynesian without the name -- but introduced in the same "this is common sense" way.

[u] 

I won't keep calling these out, but again this is the rhetoric of Obama from 2004 onwards, and the economic argument from Kansas onward. He is rattling off most of the speech at this stage but does put some stress on "everybody."

[v] 

I am not enough of a budget geek to know exactly how to make sense of this. But obviously it is an important claim for Obama to be able to make in the upcoming budget wars. Sure, I'm concerned about spending -- and see, I have a plan that matches the vaunted Simpson-Bowles.

[w] 

Here we get a cutaway shot of Senator Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, a medical doctor -- who with his stylish glasses, trimmed goatee, and very snazzy haircut looks (a) great and (b) more like an actor playing a senator than the way senators look in real life.

[x] 

Say it along with me: Hello, Antithesis! Speechwriters around the world see this line and think, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." There is some other rhetorical device folderol in this kind of construction. You can look it up -- i.e., that "negotiate" quote, and what is going on therein.

[y] 

He ad-libs, "We can get this done!" and gets a pretty good round of applause all around.

[z] 

"High-powered" is a corny word to have here; its only justification is for a contrast with "hard-working." He also ad-libs that these high-powered accountants are "working the system."

[aa] 

Biden and the Democrats on their feet cheering. Boehner and the Republicans stay in their chairs -- can't tell whether Boehner claps at all.

[ab] 

For the record: Camera pans to Rep. Eric Cantor for this line.

[ac] 

One of the clearest partisan-divide moments. Biden and all the Democrats shoot out of their chairs and cheer. Boehner  sits expressionless and does not clap.

[ad] 

Now this is remarkable. One of the tricks of SOTU drafting is to construct sentences that force the other side to join in the applause, because you've ended the sentence on some "U-S-A! U-S-A!" type of line. Which is what Obama has done here: Who can possibly be against upholding the full faith and credit of the United States? The remarkable part is that the congressional GOP has decided it is not going to applaude this line. So we have the odd spectacle of Democrats, led by Biden, up and cheering for America paying its bills -- while the speaker of the House and other members of his party remain seated and un-applauding.

[ae] 

Another reminder of the distance we've come in the past two years. Before and immediately after the 2010 midterms most politicians, including at times Obama, talked and acted as if deficit reduction was the only economic step that mattered.

[af] 

The "North Star" reference is one Obama likes to use. Back in 2010 he said at one of his press conferences, "My job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there. What is helping the American people live out their lives? What is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy? [see previous usage note] What is making us more competitive?"

[ag] 

"The Convergence of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Chapter 73." Clinton, and now Obama, are not the first Democrats to make this "smarter, not bigger" point. I know -- first hand! -- that it was an important part of Jimmy Carter's rhetoric. Michael Dukakis was admired for it when he led George H.W. Bush in the 1988 polls, and then derided as a bloodless technocrat after he lost. But Clinton made it an important part of a "triangulated" Democratic policy, and Obama is applying an updated version.

[ah] 

I am intentionally going light on the rest of this economic argument. It's getting late; many of the points that apply before show up here as well. We're all busy.

[ai] 

Here we get a shot of Apple CEO Tim Cook, in the "Lenny Skutnik" role for the speech. If you don't know about Lenny Skutnik, check out previous versions of these annotations.

[aj] 

All he needed to add here is "Subscribe!" Follow The Atlantic's excellent coverage of this trend! Both Boehner and Biden clap for this one -- unlike the "faith and credit" line.

[ak] 

Weirdly, Biden spends this paragraph fumbling in his coat pockets to find a pen; then using his mouth to hold the pen's top; then writing a note to himself and putting a note card back in his pocket. What had just occurred to him?

[al] 

No response from any part of the crowd to this line.

[am] 

For later discussion: This paragraph and the ones that follow are obviously important, in historical and policy terms. Obama had notably underplayed this issue over the past two years. Starting with his inaugural address, he has decided to talk about climate issues. Whether he -- or anyone -- will be able to do enough, or anything, is a different question. But these are paragraphs that will be looked back upon: as a beginning, or as a failed attempt.

Also: Biden immediately shoots to his feet. It appears that Boehner does not even clap.

[an] 

Won't keep pointing this out, but again: applause on this on straight partisan lines.

[ao] 

McCain shown with tight, not-smiling-with-his-eyes grin here.

[ap] 

No More Mr. Nice Guy. And he sounds as if he takes this seriously.

[aq] 

As I've argued before, this is actually an OK way to use the "menace from abroad" concept in presidential rhetoric. Not that China (or Germany, etc.) is menacing us, but that they're setting a standard. If they can do this, why shouldn't we?

[ar] 

He ad-libs: "This is part of an 'all of the above' approach" to energy problems. It will not make friends on the left, but he is talking more about climate in these past two months than he has before on the national scene.

[as] 

A fairly remarkable potential achievement, if you think back to previous ambitions (e.g., raising average fleet mileage and so on.)

[at] 

For later discussion: how Obama wants to position himself as the New Eisenhower, a temperamentally conservative person who wants to have a national-security and national-welfare rationale for infrastructure projects, research, education, and so on.

[au] 

(1) Ah, it brings back the Carter days! When these policies actually made a difference. (2) Boehner and Biden both cheer. We'll take our consensus where we can get it.

[av] 

The nicest human moment in this speech. Obama is razzing all the Republicans who denounce his stimulus bills but then put out press releases and go to ribbon-cuttings when the projects come to their districts. No one watching on TV knows what Obama is getting at here; everyone in the hall does. He is having fun, and Boehner has the grace to smile.

[aw] 

For some reason, only Democrats appear to cheer this line. This would also seem a gimme for the GOP, but I'm obviously not in charge of their response.

[ax] 

Two tried-and-true approaches here: calling what you want to do "modern," and the "worthy of our children" line appealing to our self-regard or at least our regard for our offspring.

[ay] 

"Right away" is another of his familiar themes from stump speeches. He ad-libs, "We can get this done," and starts doing so more often in the following passage.

[az] 

Meta-point here: Obama's argument that the GOP has a greater interest in blocking whatever is defined as the Obama agenda than in the objective merits of any proposal. Thus this and other challenges to "take a vote" -- to consider the issues on the merits and see where they lead. Obviously this plays a big part in the concluding appeal about gun violence.

[ba] 

Ad lib: "Why would that be a partisan issue, helping folks refinance?" There is an aw-shucks tone to this, with the use of "folks," but it's consistent with the "stop the obstruction and see where we can agree on the merits" pitch.

[bb] 

Classic SOTU transition device, variant 47B.

[bc] 

Significant specific pitch. Democrats stand, Republicans sit.

[bd] 

I haven't looked it up, but I bet that Bill Clinton has uttered this exact sentence at some point in his career -- probably many points. It is his kind of quantified common-sensical appeal.

[be] 

Shot to Chuck Schumer with a huge grin.

[bf] 

Again, I am not enough of a higher-ed geek to judge this, but everything I've read suggests that this could be quite a significant change. More later.

[bg] 

The crucial stage-business point here is that Biden is immediately up and cheering -- as are most other Democrats -- while Boehner and most Republicans either don't respond or react only tepidly. Just as a matter of positioning, why aren't they leaping to their feet as well? Marco Rubio is the official responder, in part to show the GOP's expansion beyond is assumed older-white demographic base. And indications are that the GOP will sign on to this reform bill. So why not at least cheer?

[bh] 

OK, I wouldn't cheer this line, but purely because of the odious "grow our economy" usage. Fortunately the representatives and senators from both parties are above such pettiness, and most of them are on their feet.

[bi] 

If you look back over Obama's speeches of the past two years, you will see this sentence structure quite a lot -- often with "jobs bill" in the place of "immigration reform bill."

[bj] 

Biden and the Democrats leap to their feet. Boehner motionless.

[bk] 

For later discussion: this could be significant. At a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, $9/hour is still just over $18,000 per year. And on inflation-indexed terms, it would leave the minimum wage still significantly below its level in the 1960s. But it is one thing federal policy can do to offset rather than intensify economic polarization.

[bl] 

Remember him?

[bm] 

Biden claps, Boehner doesn't, for what had been the position of his party's nominee.

[bn] 

An important line that I thought would get more reaction than the mild applause it actually evokes.

[bo] 

Oh, grrroooaaannnn! This is the hoariest sort of "Turning now to world affairs" transition. But we've all gotten tired while at the keyboard, as I obviously am now.

[bp] 

The most important word in this sentence is "our."

[bq] 

I don't have time to go into this at the moment, but: A hugely significant question for American foreign and domestic policy alike is whether Obama is on the verge of "declaring victory." I argued a long time ago that George W. Bush could and should have done so too; the case is here: http://theatln.tc/Yhk12b. Obama seems as if he might be preparing the political and logical groundwork for such a step. But again, more later on this theme.

[br] 

This paragraph raises first-order issues about Obama's presidency but cannot resolve them. He says here that he recognizes the need for democratic checks, balances, and accountability for even the unconventional military options of modern drone-and-detention war. But he still has not moved far past the "trust me" mode. This paragraph says he will do more. We'll see.

[bs] 

SOTU transition writing, model 1037Q.

[bt] 

Endless verities of the SOTU: If there is any significant world event or domestic issue you don't mention, you'll be eaten alive for the oversight. Thus a mention of North Korean nukes, followed by talk of Iran.

[bu] 

You know what I'm about to say: here is the latest item from the grab-bag of familiar SOTU transition tricks.

[bv] 

There are times when threatening ambiguity serves a president well, and this is one of them.

[bw] 

The idea that the air-traffic-control system is being sabotaged is news to me; this is an interesting and aggressively stated paragraph. In bureaucratic terms, people looking for funding for cyber security in the Department of Defense and elsewhere all rejoice.

[bx] 

Bonus sentence! Antithesis! And classic SOTU transition! Together at last.

[by] 

Biden is thumbing through his copy of the speech now, to see how many more pages are left. Not too many!

[bz] 

One more topic that he HAD to mention but on which his comment can't be much more than restating the ambiguity of the current approach.

[ca] 

I wonder if there is something wrong with Boehner's knee, or back. He and Biden both clap for this -- but when most everyone else stands up for an obvious applause line, Boehner stays in his seat.

[cb] 

Boehner sore knee theory, continued: This is another absolute no-brainer standing ovation line for the speech. Biden indeed stands, as do most people in the hall, but not Boehner. He claps briefly, seated.

[cc] 

As best I can tell, Boehner doesn't clap here.

[cd] 

Ad libs, "and moms"

[ce] 

This does bring Boehner to his feet.

[cf] 

I promise, this is the last time I'll point it out: but by the end of this speech you will recognize the Classic SOTU Transition Sentence when you next encounter it. I'll leave the rest of them in this speech for you to pick out on your own.

[cg] 

As with the gun-safety issue he is about to raise, it's notable that Obama appears to be staying with this issue rather than letting it fade.

[ch] 

Significantl ad lib: "can't afford to wait ..."

[ci] 

About the rest of this speech, I will simply say: This is powerfully and masterfully done, and it had its effect within the hall. It had the speech's one memorable line -- "they deserve a vote" -- and as composition, as pacing, as appeal to both emotion and logic, as a specimen of delivery it represented the appearance of Eloquent Obama in this address. If you watch it in replays, you will see Obama employing a style he has used only when he knows things are going very well. He hears the audience's applause -- and doesn't wait for it to subside, but essentially surfs above it, giving the "they deserve a vote" refrain as the applause continues to build. It is the most preacherly part of his rhetoric repertoire, and he uses it superbly for this few-minute stretch.

[cj] 

Essay question: Barack Obama, Reinhold Neibuhr. Compare and contrast.

[ck] 

Boehner bad knee theory: he is one of the few in camera range not standing to applaud the 102-year-old Desiline.

[cl] 

In an ideal world, these would have been the final words of the speech. This paragraph is a perfectly good ending! But in the fallen world of modern American politics, major presidential speeches must end with the paragraph that follows. It is our modern counterpart of "Amen" or "Drive home safely, folks."

Still, a speech that ended stronger than it began, and sets out interesting political and policy points.

See you next year. And God bless the United States of America, plus any other country I can think of, and The Atlantic magazine and its readers, and speechwriters everywhere.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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