SOTU 2013: Rehashing inaugural address

“The second act from the same play” is how White House sources were billing the President’s State of the Union address tonight—the “first act” being, of course, his inaugural address Jan. 20.

In contrast to his inaugural remarks last month, Obama’s address Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress (and a national television audience) placed strong emphasis on the economy, how he saw it recovering under his tenure, and calls for action to avert the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that will take effect March 1.

Clearly, his most dramatic calls were for raising the minimum wage to $9, expansion of Pre-K public education, a greater public role in education —all of which underscored the view that Obama remains a fully-committed “big government man.”

But the president also found time to echo and underscore many of the same decidedly left-of-center themes that characterized his address on Jan. 20: climate change, a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally, and making it easier for all Americans to vote, and his emotional call for gun control.

“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence,” he declared, calling for a vote on stronger gun control measures, “they deserve a simple vote.” It was the first time a President has brought up gun control in a State of the Union address in more than a decade.

More class warfare—and a whack at the tea party

Addressing the $1.2 billion in sequestration cuts that he called “sudden,” “harsh,” and “arbitrary,” Mr. Obama warned against the calls of some in Congress to prevent “only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.” He then repeated calls he has made in recent appearances for “closing tax loopholes” and “entitlement reform.”

“After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks?,” the President said, sounding the “class warfare” themes he invoked so often on the campaign trail last year and in his recent appearances before the White House press corps.

He also took a not-so-hidden whack at “tea party”-backed Republican House Members who say they will oppose extending the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts. Reforms must be made, in Mr. Obama’s words, “without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors” and called on lawmakers to agree “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.”

The red meat

His economic manifesto spelled out once more, the president dove into the “red meat” issues that cheer and mobilize his base of supporters on the left. He declared that, “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” If anyone listening doubted his passion on this issue, the president removed those doubts in no uncertain terms. If Congress fails to take action, he warned, “I will. I 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.”

To critics who have long suspected he is anti-oil, Obama also ended those doubts. He proposed “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.”

The President then went into a litany of new programs on issues sure to please his base and set the stage for protracted combat with the Republican-controlled House: a greater federal government hand in education and amending the Higher Education Act; raising the minimum wage to $9; and an announcement will “partner” with 20 cities to oversee economic development and recovery.

All told, the president covered a lot of ground and offered far more detail than he did in his inaugural address. But there was little mistaking the two addresses were closely linked and,the State of the Union was as his own staffers put it, “the second act in the same play.” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) may have summed it up best to Human Events when he compared his first stint in Congress (1994-2000) to that he commences after winning election to his old seat last fall. Recalling how he heard Bill Clinton deliver a State of the Union address, Salmon told us: “When I first came here, I heard one president say ‘the era of big government is over.’ Now I’m here again and another Democratic president is saying: ‘It’s ba-ack!’”