iOS app Android app More

State Of The Union Speech: Obama Only Latest President To Push Competitiveness

Obama State Of The Union Speech

AP/The Huffington Post   First Posted: 01/25/11 08:47 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama calls in his State of the Union address for a new focus on American competitiveness, he'll be striking a theme seized on for decades by presidents of both parties – with mixed results.

Ever since the Soviet Union stunned America with the Sputnik satellite launch in 1957, presidents have warned Congress and the public that more needs to be done to ensure the U.S. keeps pace with the rest of the world. Yet by some measures America has only fallen farther behind, raising the question of what impact Obama's renewed focus on the concept really can have.

Obama is expected to raise the goal of increased competitiveness Tuesday night to get lawmakers and the public behind investments in education, innovation and infrastructure. But to Republicans, competitiveness means something different. They are already bridling at the suggestion of any new spending, and to them boosting competitiveness argues for less intervention by Washington, not more.

"The word competitiveness means different things to different people," said Bill Booher, executive vice president at the nonpartisan Council on Competitiveness. "We have to identify what competitiveness means and how we achieve that in a much different way today than perhaps we have ever done."

When President Ronald Reagan warned in his 1987 State of the Union that "it's widely said that America is losing her competitive edge," his solution included expanding free trade. President George W. Bush said a key component of competitiveness was tax cuts. President George H.W. Bush had a "Council on Competitiveness" which came to be seen by some as a tool for businesses to kill regulations; President Bill Clinton eliminated it shortly after taking office.

Indeed, a call for keeping America competitive can come off as little more than a politician's rationale to push whatever policies he supported in the first place. So while Republicans would hardly dispute Obama's desire for a competitive America, that doesn't mean the president will be able to unify them behind his plans to get there.

Obama just announced a Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to be chaired by General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt, and wants to improve education and research, and boost the U.S. economy and domestic business investments. The aims are similar to the goals of his predecessors' competitiveness initiatives, but over the years U.S. students have fallen behind, a gaping trade deficit has opened, and developing countries like China have poured money into investments like high-speed rail while America stood back.

Obama wants it to be different this time, and he is trying to add urgency to his appeal by casting it as "our generation's Sputnik moment," as he put it in a speech last month in North Carolina. "In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind," the president said.

The first "Sputnik moment," when the Soviet Union beat the U.S. in sending a satellite into space, pushed President Dwight D. Eisenhower to fund an increase in scientists and engineers. President John F. Kennedy subsequently spurred America toward the 1969 moon landing.

Now, Obama says, "we need a commitment to innovation that we haven't seen since President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon."

But in today's divided Washington, Obama may have a hard time getting Republicans and Democrats to agree to go anywhere together.

live blog

Oldest Newest

President Obama vowed on Tuesday to veto any bill with earmarks, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) strongly disagrees.

Share this:

Did Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) watch Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) speech last night? No.

Share this:

Over at Slate, Eliot Spitzer lashes out at the budget plan Paul Ryan endorsed during Tuesday night's Republican response to the State of the Union.

Share this:

We mentioned last night that Rep. Paul Brown tweeted to President Obama, "You believe in socialism." Here's more info on the story.

@ RepPaulBrounMD : Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.

Share this:

HuffPost polling expert Mark Blumenthal dives into the polling from last night's speech:

The results of the instant snap polls by CBS News, CNN/ORC and the Democratic pollsters at Democracy Corps all show overwhelmingly positive responses to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address from Tuesday night. Yet if past history is a guide, these impressions will not translate into a "bump" -- a lasting, measurable change in public opinion. These snap polls, for reasons that have never been clear, almost always yield an immediately favorable response.

One of the big challenges pollsters face in measuring reactions to the State of the Union address is that reaching a fresh random sample of adults within minutes of the speech is nearly impossible. Moreover, not everyone watches the speech. So those that try to measure reactions to the speech compromise, and aim to interview only those who say they have watched the speech.

Read more.

Share this:

HuffPost's Peter Goodman writes:

His words aimed for and found the space above the partisan divide in which presumably all key constituencies can benefit: If we invest strategically to nurture broad-based economic growth, that should generate jobs for factory workers and office-dwellers alike. It should increase orders for auto parts, software and catering. And, yes, a growing economy should create more dealmaking opportunities for Wall Street -- a fine thing, provided it delivers finance to productive parts of the economy that will use it to churn out goods and services of real value.

There is simply no constituency that loses when the economy grows. This was the unspoken fact at the heart of the president's speech.

But words, of course, are something short of action, and it was hard to listen to this speech without wondering: What took so long? How could we have gone two years into an administration that began in the midst of the most punishing economic downturn since the Depression, before the president -- a man elected in large part on the strength of his empathy and understanding -- laid out this kind of vision?

Read the rest here.

Share this:

Christine O'Donnell: Obama's State of the Union address was "hypocritical."

Share this:
Share this:

John McCain tells ABC News that "there [were] a number of areas that the president has clearly shifted his opinion on," and added that this year's State of the Union address had a "much different feeling."

Share this:

William K. Black blogs on HuffPost about the State of the Union:

What "this" is Obama referring to when he says "This is our generation's Sputnik moment"? (And whose generation is "our" generation?) Sputnik was a "moment" -- its launch was a sensation. It caused Americans to engage in a massive reappraisal of U.S. policy and leadership. Sputnik made clear a potential Soviet threat to American's lives. The Soviet Union first tested a hydrogen bomb in 1953. By 1957, the Soviets had the rocket technology to put Sputnik in orbit. It was clear that they would soon have the capability of attacking any American city with a hydrogen bomb -- and that the U.S. had no means of stopping such an attack. Sputnik was an enormously big deal because every American understood the unprecedented threat to our survival.

President Kennedy made Sputnik one of the keys to his campaign. It happened on Eisenhower's watch. Kennedy claimed that it showed the need for a new, more innovative generation to take the reins of power and revitalize the nation. Whatever "this" Obama was referring to, it isn't a "moment" and it hasn't caused such a reappraisal. Because Obama cannot tell us what "this" is, it's tough to use the metaphor to convince the nation that we should pay for the modern equivalent of a space race to address it.

More here.

Share this:

Senior White House advisor David Axelrod had some fun with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)'s State of the Union response. Watch.

Share this:

CNN was the only cable network to carry Michele Bachmann's Tea Party response on Tuesday night. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow took issue with the network's decision.

"Michele Bachmann is not the national spokesperson for the Republican Party," she said. "She is unlikely anytime soon to be chosen to be the spokesperson for her party. But tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did."

Watch the segment here.

Share this:

Mark Thompson at Time tracked how many words Obama devoted to war during last night's addressed, and compared it to every State of the Union since 2001. Take a look at the findings here.

Share this:

What did President Obama's State of the Union mean for college students? HuffPost College takes a look.

Share this:

Politico observes that Tuesday's State of the Union address "was marked less by what was said than by an unprecedented lack of control over who was delivering the messages and when."

Click here for more on broken embargos, delayed speeches, and why CNN ran Michele Bachmann's live remarks when Fox News didn't.

Share this:

Obama mentioned at least seven everyday Americans during his speech on Tuesday, restoring a tradition that he skipped in 2010. Click here for more on the people he acknowledged as well as a video of all the citizens mentioned in State of the Union addresses dating back to 1982, when Ronald Reagan started the practice.

Share this:

If the State of the Union salmon humor wasn't enough for you, Roll Call poked fun of the evening's seating arrangements with a video:

Share this:

If you've been closely following this liveblog tonight, you've done a whole lot of reading about Obama's State of the Union address. Eyes getting tired? We asked our Twitter followers to react. Who needs 140 whole characters? These tweets cut to the chase in just three words ... here you go.

Share this:

The Center For Public Integrity has a recap from the State of the Union address, as well as a recap of the live fact check from Sunlight Live:

President Obama’s State of the Union address met its promise for civility but the math behind his proposals didn’t entirely add up.

For all his talk of reining in federal spending and cutting the deficit, Obama proposed an ambitious spending spree ranging from new clean energy technologies to expensive bridges and high-speed rail projects. He offered very few specifics about where spending cuts would come from, and one of the ideas he offered for offsetting some of his spending — eliminating oil and gas tax breaks — couldn’t get passed by Congress when the Democrats controlled both chambers. Now Republicans, typically more friendly to industry, are in charge of the House.

Click here for more.

Share this:

Another speech, another fact check:

Insisting that she was not upstaging the official GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) offered a combative and highly misleading speech of her own following the president's address. In her "Tea Party Response," Bachmann repeated a litany of false right-wing talking points about everything from the Recovery Act and job losses to the debt and "16,500 IRS agents."

Read more at Media Matters' Political Correction.

Share this:

HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:

The cross-party-dating tradition that began tonight did not go off as smoothly as it appeared from the television screens.

Much like in the legislative tussles between the parties and the chambers, House and Senate members jockeyed for position prior to the speech. According to House rules, no member is allowed to claim a seat for him or herself: The People's Chamber is first come, first serve. In practice, members routinely save seats for themselves before the State of the Union, a tradition that spun out of control as bipartisan groups attempted to save long rows and blocs of seats.

Click here for more.

Share this:

David Corn from Mother Jones:

Is he a fierce down-sizer of government, or an ardent champion of boosting government investment in the economy? Well, he's both. A lot of folks on both sides of the ideological divide won't be so happy. Conservatives and Republicans will grouse that Obama hasn't truly learned the lesson of the 2010 elections and remains a staunch lefty spendthrift. Liberals will fret that he's yielding too much ground to the tea partiers who believe with religious fervor that what ails the economy is government spending (not the economy itself). As for the mushy middle, those much sought-after independent voters—will they go for Obama's right-left meld? After all, many of them seem to want a government that doesn't spend money and a government that revives the economy. It might take more than minutes to see if this one-man duet (save-and-invest) connects.

Ultimately, this speech, not full of punch, was the set-up for the political battle that will rage from now until Election Day 2012. Obama wants to use government to revive the US economy. But he has calculated that he can only do so if Americans believe he is simultaneously tightening the belt of the bloated beast in Washington. The Republicans, meanwhile, will continue to reiterate their mantra: the only thing we have to fear is government spending and debt. A fundamental and ideological disagreement is at hand: government is evil, government can help. Obama is conceding part of the argument (yes, we must do something about spending) to win the argument (we must engage in communal action to survive and succeed in the global economy). To win the future—and the next election—the president has to hope that he has figured out the right cost/benefit ratio.

Click here to read more on Mother Jones.

Share this:

CNN has released the results of the second of two instant polls on President Obama's speech tonight. Like the CBS News survey reviewed here earlier, this survey finds an overwhelmingly positive response that is also typical for a State of the Union Address.

The telephone survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, sampled 475 Americans who watched the speech. Like the CBS survey, CNN found that the audience composition followed the typical pattern of a skew to the President's party. Democrats outnumbered Republicans two-to-one in the CNN sample (39% to 19%), which is roughly the same margin CNN found among those who watched last year's State of the Union Address (38% Democrat, 25% Republican).

Not surprisingly, the CNN/ORC poll measured an overwhelmingly positive response to the State of the Union address: 84% positive, 15% negative (with 52% very positive). While impressive, that response is also fairly typical. Obama did slightly worse on the post-SOTU poll last year (78% positive, including 48% very positive), but better in 2009 (92% positive, including 68% very positive).

The CNN survey also found a 16 percentage point jump (from 61% to 77%) in the number who said that the policies Obama proposed would "move the country in the right direction." Once again, that's about average. Obama moved the numbers by about as after his speeches in 2010 (up 18, from 53% to 71%) and 2009 (up 17, from 71% to 88%). That's roughly the same average shift (+17) on the dozen instant response State of the Union speeches conducted by CNN (with ORC and their previous polling partner Gallup) since 1995.

Again, while typical, these sorts of positive responses rarely translate into meaningful, lasting changes in public opinion.

-- Mark Blumenthal

Share this:

If a common theme emerged from the Republican leadership’s response to Obama’s address, it’s that the president didn’t propose to trim enough from the budget. “You can’t freeze at last year’s level and save any money. That’s why you have to go back to at least 2008 levels,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told HuffPost after the speech.

“I would have preferred a speech that focused more urgently on the fact that we’re borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we’re spending,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the number three Republican. “He has a crisis before him and us. He has to be the leader. He has to present the plans.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed. “Freezing after the last two years’ spending binge is clearly not much. We need to really significantly reduce our annual spending and we need to tackle our long-term entitlements, which he indicated an openness to doing, so we’ll see.”

McConnell said that Obama’s education plan would run up against opposition if it increased spending. “All of that involves increasing spending and our top priority now is to reduce spending and reduce spending significantly, both short term and long term,” he told HuffPost.

Calling something investment doesn’t make it useful spending, said Alexander. “Investment is a bad word when it’s used as a cover for just more random spending,” he said.

-- Ryan Grim

Share this:

HuffPost's Howard Fineman gives his take on the speech:

WASHINGTON - It wasn't Kumbaya, it was more. We have finally witnessed it: "Love Train" Moment in the capital.

The president almost made John Boehner cry by praising him as a working class hero. That was to be expected. But in his tour-de-force of good fellowship Tuesday night, Barack Obama went further.

Read more here.

Share this:

The immigration reform advocacy community wasn't impressed by Obama's tepid and vague call for support for immigration reform. National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani said the speech showed a general impasse on moving forward with immigration reform:

Tonight we didn’t hear a plan from the President, and we’ve never seen one from Republicans. The majority of Americans want a bipartisan immigration solution that levels the playing field for American workers, holds crooked employers accountable, secures our nation, and requires the undocumented to pay taxes, get right with the law and legalize their status. Americans are tired of the divisive politics of yesterday, and it is time for a solution that moves us forward together.

Another immigrant advocacy group, The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, voiced a similar complaint:

Although briefly urging congress to ‘take on, once and for all’ immigration reform, the President missed a golden opportunity to elaborate on how he will work on legalizing immigrants rather than deporting them, how he will protect immigrants and their U.S. born children against a flurry of anti-immigrant legislation at the federal and state levels, or how he will use any and all executive powers to help immigrant integration.

The Latino electorate is committed to seeing President Obama succeed as he leads our nation through one of our worst financial crises in decades. We are bereft, however, when one of candidate Obama’s promises to our community, that of reforming our nation’s broken immigration laws, remains unfulfilled after two years. His promise to bring immigrants out of the shadows must turn into action that protects more than just talented students.

-HuffPost's Elise Foley

Share this:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) liked sitting with Republicans so much at the State of the Union that he wants to do it all the time by proposing mixed-party seating in the Senate. (For those times that they're all in there together and not just talking to an empty floor.) "I want to sit with them on the floor of the Senate," he told reporters after the speech. "Let's sit together. Stop this division that only keeps us divided. In the Senate, if we work together and we sit together, I think there's a lot more opportunity to share things."

-HuffPost's Elise Foley

Share this:

Obama's call to address immigration is a carry-over from last year's address.

Last year, Obama pledged to continue working on "fixing our broken immigration system, to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation."

Obama dispatched the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Department of Homeland Security increased deportations of undocumented workers. But the administration largely didn't push Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. And the watered-down version that passed the House and made it to the Senate failed to pass, too.

Last year, Obama called the system "broken." Nothing has changed.

-HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour

Share this:

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski unexpectedly left early from President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night due to a family emergency. She tweeted that her youngest son was undergoing a "surprise appendectomy surgery."

Share this:

CBS News has broadcast initial findings from their survey of "more than 500" Americans who watched the State of the Union address. They report finding an "extremely positive response," with 92% expressing approval for the proposals the President made in his speech. That's slightly better than the 83% approval they obtained last year, but roughly the same as for Obama's inaugural address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009 (91%).

One reason for the overwhelmingly positive response is that the audience typically skews to the President's supporters. This year was no exception, as Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the CBS sample, 44% to 25% with 30% identifying as independent, roughly the same as what CBS found last year (41% Democrat, 21% Republican, 35% independent).

CBS also reports that approval for Obama's "plans for the economy" jumped from 54% expressed by their respondents before the speech to 81% after. Last year's address involved a similar jump, from 55% to 76% approval.

Positive responses from instant polls are typical, but rarely translate into meaningful, lasting changes in public opinion.

As in previous years, CBS conducted a representative online sample pre-recruited by the company Knowledge Networks (more on the methodology here).

-HuffPost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal

Share this:

FOLLOW HUFFPOST POLITICS
Subscribe to the HuffPost Hill newsletter!