Five Best Wednesday Columns

David Ignatius on Obama's optimistic State of the Union, Maureen Dowd on Rubio's response, James Hohmann on issues that should concern Democrats, Fred Kaplan on the President's vague foreign policy, and Simon Jenkins on the senselessness of sanctions.

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David Ignatius in The Washington Post on Obama's optimistic State of the Union North Korea's nuclear test on Tuesday morning may have cast an ominous cloud over President's Obama's first State of the Union address going into his second term. And the presence of many gun violence victims in the House Chamber poignantly reminded observers that we live in violent times. But such depressing omens didn't stop the President from delivering what David Ignatius, like many other observers, thought to be an optimistic speech that rested on his first-term laurels while also taking a can-do attitude toward problems lying ahead. "It was a muscular, confident speech that took simple themes and elevated them to a broad message that the the country’s problems, as difficult as they are, are still soluble," Ignatius writes. "Or, as he put it in the signature line of the speech, 'We can fix this.'"

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on Rubio's response As the Time-anointed "Republican Savior," it fell on Marco Rubio to counter the President's address last night. Rubio is hoping to put a younger face on conservatism, appealing to the kind of voters who know Tupac lyrics by heart and might consider aligning with the GOP if only it were more diverse. But his rebuttal remarks (prepared and disseminated to the media before Obama even approached the podium) failed to impress Maureen Dowd, who writes, "He needed some saving himself Tuesday night as he delivered the party’s response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water. He needed some of the swagger reflected on the Spotify playlist he recently released, featuring Tupac’s 'Changes,' as well as Flo Rida, Pitbull, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kanye, Big Sean, devoted Obama supporters Jay-Z and Will.I.Am, and a Foster the People song about 'a cowboy kid' who finds a gun in his dad’s closet and goes after 'all the other kids with the pumped up kicks.'"

James Hohmann in Politico on issues that should concern Democrats The State of the Union is a time for reflecting on the country's present situation, but Democrats who want to retain their seats in 2014 should be planning for upcoming fights on four key issues mentioned in Obama's address, argues James Hohmann. He lists immigration, gun control, cap-and-trade, and the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell as issues that liberals hailing from right-leaning districts should flag going into next year's elections. "Six Senate Democrats face reelection next year in states carried by Mitt Romney last November," Hohmann writes. "Obama’s name will not be on the ballot in 2014, but it’s a good bet that the GOP will try to link each of these incumbents to the sitting president. And they will face an even more conservative electorate in the lower-turnout midterms than Obama did in 2012."

Fred Kaplan in Slate on the President's vague foreign policy While watching the State of the Union, Fred Kaplan noticed that the biggest across-the-aisle applause went to Obama's promise that by the end of 2014, "Our war in Afghanistan will be over." The President may have tapped in to a bipartisan reluctance to entering any more thorny foreign battles, but Kaplan couldn't tease out any underlying principles to Obama's foreign policy talking points. "It was only natural that President Obama barely mentioned foreign and defense policy until 54 minutes after he walked into the chamber—and even drew more of a vague sketch than a policy," Kaplan writes. "He spoke for barely 10 minutes on foreign policy, then moved on to the night’s most compelling themes: voting rights, gun control, and the meaning of citizenship."

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian on the senselessness of sanctions One cornerstone of American foreign policy — the use of sanctions against nations bent on pursuing nuclear weapons programs — wasn't mentioned explicitly in Obama's speech, but they were alluded to in his promise to "further isolate" nations like North Korea and Iran. However, after reflecting on North Korea's third nuclear test in seven years, Simon Jenkins writes that such measures aren't effective. "Ever since the dodgy election of 2009, threats and sanctions have not weakened the regime's determination to proceed, but rather weakened opposition to it," Jenkins writes. "If ever there was a country unlikely to respond to diplomatic bullying, it is Iran. If ever there was a country that might respond to constructive engagement, to commercial, governmental and cultural intercourse, it is also Iran. Why the west should want to make it another North Korea passes comprehension"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.