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Highs and lows of Obama’s State of the Union speech

sotu 600Tuesday night was State of the Union time again, which meant two things:

President Barack Obama had to pull off the most difficult oratorical balancing act there is for any president: delivering a substantive policy speech that manages to inspire and move Americans.

And it means that we do what we do after every State of the Union address—grade his performance. So, below is a list of highs and lows from the president's speech. Please feel free to let us know if you think we missed any in the comments section below.




Giving voice to "men of color."

For much of his presidency Obama has faced criticism from many in the black community, including yours truly, for not more candidly acknowledging the specific problems that plague African Americans, men in particular. Issues like racial profiling and unemployment have disproportionately impacted men of color, but rarely has their story been told by this president, or any president, particularly before a racially diverse national audience.

But with the simple words, "And I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential," the president gave voice to the millions of men of color whose voices have previously been silenced and forgotten.


Barely there gun control.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children dead occurred just over one year ago, and in response, in his 2013 State of the Union address, the president made gun control a major focus. Shortly before his speech and right on the heels of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, was also the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Her parents attended last year's State of the Union Address as guests of first lady Michelle Obama, and the first lady attended Hadiya's memorial. This year, though, there was only a brief reference to as-yet-undone gun-control legislation.


Making the case for health care reform. (Finally.)

If President Obama had defended the Affordable Care Act as clearly, deftly and ferociously as he did in this year's State of the Union, it's hard to see how anyone in the GOP would have had the chutzpah to continue trying to fight it the way they have, so hard for so long. The president managed to channel some humor by saying, "Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law," which drew laughs from members of both parties.

He then delivered the devastating blow, saying, "But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you'd do differently."


Equality for women.

According to ABC News' Twitter feed, Facebook data indicated that the part of President Obama's speech in which he focused on equal pay for women was one of the most popular social media moments of the night. The moment captured the president at his most confident—cheered on by boisterous applause, but no doubt by what the enthusiasm that greeted his comments might mean for the GOP.

The last month has been an unmitigated disaster for Republicans, who've spent much of the time since losing the last presidential election trying to convince American women, many of whom voted for President Obama, that there is no "war on women." While Republican men like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have been in the news for all of the wrong reasons in recent weeks, in his speech, the president got to solidify his reputation as a man who not only respects women, but sees them as equals.


Forgetting reproductive rights.

His spirited defense of women's equality in the workplace is what made his virtual silence regarding lingering inequality when it comes to reproductive rights all the more jarring. Birth-control coverage is one of the signature components of the health care law he defended so vigorously in his speech and is in danger of being struck down by the Supreme Court.


Shouting out the son of a "barkeep."

Some of President Obama's most pointed criticism, particularly from conservatives, has been that he has not made enough of an effort to encourage bipartisanship, which made the reference to his political adversary House Speaker John Boehner one of the most memorable and effective moments of this year's State of the Union, drawing a needed laugh and bipartisan applause.

Invoking the American Dream, that anyone from anywhere can work hard and make it, he said, "I believe that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That's what drew our forebears here. It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker–—how the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House."

It reminded Americans of the friendly, likable candidate Obama they elected.


Paying homage to a brave soldier.

There were few dry eyes when the president paid homage to Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, a soldier he befriended at an event just months before a roadside bomb in Afghanistan would leave Remsburg in a coma for three months. Remsburg sat next to the first lady at the State of the Union, having endured a grueling rehabilitation process. And by closing his address with Remsburg's story, the president helped remind everyone in the room the reason why they are all there.

Cheering Remsburg was one issue that Republicans and Democrats definitely agree on.

(Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.)


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0 #1 Eddie Settles 2014-01-29 11:45
Helping young men of color find jobs. Awesome! But the devil is in the details-especia lly in Memphis. Mayor Wharton touted his "Blueprint for Prosperity" in this morning's "State of the City" address. Frankly , I'm more interested in what the President and Rep. Cohen will do to help Mayor Wharton help low-income Memphis families achieve prosperity.

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