Party Lines Divide Local Reaction to Obama’s Speech

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Republicans voiced a different vision of the United States than that expressed by President Obama in his final State of the Union Address. Democrats, meanwhile, appeared ready to work with the president to advance his agenda in his final year.

Obama spoke in broad terms about his hopes for the nation in the next year and beyond, and in remarks appearing to be tailored at some GOP candidates who are seeking his job, disputed negative assertions about the state of the country.

The United States, he said, “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world and is in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history,” with more than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the 1990s and an unemployment rate reduced in half.  “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Obama said.

What is true, he continued, and the reason many Americans feel anxious, is the economy has been changing in profound ways, a process that started “long before the Great Recession.” Technology not only has replaced assembly line jobs but any job where work can be automated.

“Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top,” he said.

“After years of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the expense of everyone else; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did,” the president said.

Pointing to the “spirit of discovery” in America’s DNA, he cited the “next-generation manufacturing hubs” launched during the past few years. The first of which was America Makes in Youngstown, which the president mentioned in his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union addresses.

As Obama dismissed GOP talk of America’s economic decline as “political hot air,” he similarly dispatched assertions that is America becoming weaker and its enemies stronger. “No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin,” he said.

“As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states,” he said.

Republicans took a dim view of the president’s speech, although some offered the prospect of working with him on shared priorities.

“Tonight President Obama described the state of our union as he wishes it were, not as it actually is,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3 Pa. “He portrayed our economy as acceptably strong when growth is in fact nowhere near as robust as it could and should be. He spoke of national security, but completely ignored the international instability that his policies are leaving behind and has made us less safe.

“The sad truth of the matter is that after seven years of trying to drag an inherently center-right country in an aggressive left-wing direction, President Obama has left the state of our great union weaker, more divided, more anxious, more insecure, and much less hopeful than when he first took office,” he said.

In his statement reacting to the speech, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, said, “Never in my lifetime have I seen a president seem so small and insignificant in the face of so many tremendous global challenges – challenges that require American leadership abroad, and the ability to unite at home. Tonight’s speech didn’t change any of that, and he continues to preside over the downsizing of the American Dream – with a record number of Americans pessimistic about the future. I found it particularly stunning that this president, after seven years of dividing our country more deeply than we’ve been in generations, is now, in his final year, calling for civility.”

Terrorism “is on the march across the globe” and at home the number of Americans who are out of work or have stopped looking for work is “epidemic,” Johnson said.

“His legacy of failure is clear, even if he doesn’t know it yet,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., remarked he is “disappointed” that Obama “failed to provide a serious, meaningful plan” for addressing slow economic growth and the threat to the nation and its allies from “violent Islamic extremists,” the “two great threats” he sees facing the nation.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he looked forward to describing a “stronger, safer and more united America” in a State of the Union Address he hopes to deliver eight years from now.

“We’re going to cut taxes, balance the budget and get government out of the way so every American can rise,” he said. “We’re also going to strengthen our military and renew our alliances to proclaim the values of the civilized world and stand up to extremists and bullies. On-the-job training in this presidency has marched us down a trail of failure and left America weaker, divided and adrift.  That’s going to end and by working together we’re going to fight, win and succeed.”

Democrats praised the speech for its optimistic tone while still acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead.

“President Obama delivered a forward looking, optimistic State of the Union Address that highlighted the progress our nation has made during the last seven years while acknowledging the substantial challenges we must confront in order to move the nation forward in the coming years,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. “Seven years ago our nation was standing on the edge of an economic cliff that had not been seen since the Great Depression.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the president “outlined a clear vision tonight for expanding American opportunity” and he was ready to “get to work building a future where anyone who’s willing to work hard and play by the rules can succeed,” Brown said. The county has come a long way in the last eight years, pointing in particular to the auto industry, but there is more work ahead to ensure that working families benefit from that success

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said Americans heard the president’s vision for a “brighter and more prosperous future“ for the country and said there was “no doubt” that the nation has come a long way since Obama took office.

“We were reminded tonight of where our country was when President Obama delivered his first address – in the midst of the worst financial crisis in recent history, losing almost 820,000 private-sector jobs during President Bush’s last month in office. But thanks to President Obama’s leadership, we have seen 70 consecutive months of job creation, adding 14 million new jobs to the American economy and cutting unemployment to 5%,” he said.

Ryan applauded the president for “directly confronting the all-too-familiar narrative being played out every night on television that America is no longer ‘great.’ This doom and gloom ethos may help win political points among some, but to focus on such negativity is disingenuous and does nothing but distract from the truly important problems facing us today,” he said.” America is, in fact, still great and we remain a leader on the world stage.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.