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5 Things We Learned From The President's Speech

President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Larry Downing
President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Much of what was in President Obama'sfifth State of the Union address was expected — it was signaled for days leading into the speech. Even so, there were a few revealing moments.

Here are five that stood out:

  • President Obama knows how to get even Republicans on their feet and applauding populist Democratic talking points like concerns about rising income inequality and declining social mobility. What's his secret? He did it by using Speaker John Boehner as an example. Addressing Americans' belief that destiny shouldn't be shaped by an accident of birth but by one's work effort, he said: "It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth."
  • Obama, as Democratic Party leader, viewed the speech as a high-profile chance to give cover to congressional Democrats on the Affordable Care Act. He framed the argument against Republicans in words that sounded like they could have been written by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., or Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: "If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice — tell America what you'd do differently. Let's see if the numbers add up. But let's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans like Amanda [Shelley, who signed up for health care on Jan. 1 and underwent emergency surgery five days later]. The first 40 were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against."
  • Now in the sixth year of his presidency, Obama still outwardly clings to the goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp for terrorist suspects that he first set as a candidate. And this despite the fact that congressional Republicans uniformly oppose that move (as do some Democrats). The president could have avoided reminding his audience of one of the signal failures of his presidency but he chose to acknowledge it. Whether civil liberties and religious groups will give him credit for that, we'll see.
  • The Treasury's new MyRA savings bond program seemed as unfamiliar to the president as it was to most of his audience. Obama slipped and called it "MyIRA" at one point and appeared to really be focusing on his TelePrompTer to get through that part of his speech.
  • Some stories are more bipartisan than others. The story of wounded Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger, drew emphatic and extended applause in the House chamber. But reaction to the story of Misty DeMars, the Oak Park, Ill., mother whose family is at risk of losing its home after her long-term unemployment insurance benefits expired following Congress' failure to renew them, broke along partisan lines. Democrats applauded loudly when the president said, "Congress, give these hard-working, responsible Americans that chance." Republicans, viewing the moment as a political stunt, didn't.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.