Peter Hoskin

Obama delivers his pitch for a second term

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A Romney-seeking missile. That was what much of Barack Obama's State of the Union Address amounted to last night. He didn't mention the Republican presidential challenger by name, of course. That would have been too obvious. But he did dwell on those sorts of issues around taxation and jobs — including his ‘Buffett Rule’, by which, we learn, millionaires should pay at least a 30 per cent tax rate — that have been causing Romney trouble. To underline the point that ‘a billionaire [should] pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes’, Warren Buffett's secretary was even among the Obamas' guests for the evening.

Obama's ploy, when presenting all this, was to be upfront about his own privilege. And so we heard a great deal about how ‘we need to change our tax code so that people like me... pay our fair share of taxes.’ Or how ‘when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford... that’s not right.’ The implied contrast was clear. The President who's saying ‘Pleeeease tax me more,’ on the one side. And the Repulican who prevaricated over releasing his tax forms on the other. Stir in Obama's persistent call for a payroll tax cut for ‘160 million working Americans’, and his basic offering reduces down to, ‘Okay, I may not be a member of the squeezed classes, but I feel their pain.’

But Obama didn't just try to distinguish himself from his Republican opponents, but also clamber over their natural territory. This was stated almost explicitly in his line:

‘I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.’

And this appeal to Republican hearts, minds and votes was there, too, in the defence-themed passages that bookended the speech. Although these celebrated the ‘generation of heroes’ that has fought on America's behalf in Afghanistan and Iraq, they also happened to celebrate the achievements of Obama's administration. ‘For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country,’ he reminded his audience. ‘The Taliban’s momentum has been broken,’ he added, a little less persuasively.  

Of course, it may not all be easy for Obama from here on in. The economy could upset his carefully-laid plans, and give the Republicans something like a chance. But this, last night, was his pitch for a second term, take it or leave it.