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President express confidence, defiance in State of the Union address

By Ron Wynn


Commentators across the board and on virtually every network cited confidence and defiance as the two principal things they noticed throughout President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night. Whether it was CNN or MSNBC, various broadcast networks, even Fox News, pundits and analysts mentioned President Obama isn't letting the results of the midterm elections deter him from introducing significant new proposals, nor saying he would veto legislation he couldn't support.


Despite prior GOP warnings against advancing anything new in the area of taxes, the President highlighted a proposal that targets both big banks and the wealthiest members of American society. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?’’ the president said in his speech, which was released prior to his addressing a joint session of Congress. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”


“That’s what middle-class economics is — the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” Obama said in a reprise of one of the key themes that animated his reelection campaign in 2012.


The president also called for tax reform that eliminates corporate-friendly loopholes, highlighted his earlier proposal for free community college, and delivered a forceful zinger aimed at conservatives and other critics of his plans to tackle global warming.


“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century,’’ Obama said. “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.’’


“Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.’’


MSNBC commentators pointed to rising approval ratings as the motivation behind both the proposals and his rising confidence and attitude. His popularity rating has reached the 50 percent mark for the first time in over two years. He's currently touring the country in a bid to gain widespread support for some of the proposals in Tuesday night's speech. 


Other items in the tax proposal designed to raise $320 billion over the next decade includes raising the capital gains and dividend tax rates to 28 percent for high earners; imposing a fee on the liabilities of about 100 big financial institutions; and greatly broadening the amount of inherited money subject to taxes.


The president defended his military campaign in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State, calling for aggressive efforts against the growing problem of cyberterrorism. “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance,’’ he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.’’


These comments were largely cheered by more conservative observers, while liberal ones were a bit more measured in their responses, warning about possible anti-Islamic sentiments being fueled by some ready to label all Muslims terror supporters. But it's generally viewed as essential that the administration make a public stance against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism, as opposed to Islam in general.


President Obama also commented on the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures, reputed to originate from North Korea. “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyberthreats, just as we have done to combat terrorism.’’


White House allies have been buoyed by the president’s newly vigorous posture. After two years in which the White House often found itself on the defensive amid a series of domestic and international crises, the president and his advisers have made “a tactical change,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, a liberal think tank. “They’re doing a better job at creating attention around the fact that they actually have a plan, a series of things they want to do.”


Although Obama has vetoed just two bills in his six years in office, the White House has threatened to veto five measures from Congress this month alone — including legislation that would authorize the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, the funding of the Department of Homeland Security to a rollback of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and impose new economic sanctions on Iran.


Obama vowed in a private meeting with Democrats last week that he will play “offense” during the final two years of his presidency, building on the aggressive executive actions he laid out over the past two months. The legislative proposals he has previewed, which also include a plan for free community college, have been based firmly on his terms, drawing objections from Republicans.


“Some of them are going to be legislative proposals Republicans may not love, but we’ll push them,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He emphasized that the administration will use “every lever we can — whether it’s with Congress, on our own or using the bully pulpit.”


Those are words many Democrats have been waiting to hear, and a strategy they embrace.

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