1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Ambitious agenda

Christina Bergmann, Washington / rmFebruary 13, 2013

US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address was a sobering assessment of the many challenges ahead. But the president won't have enough time to solve the problems, says DW's Christina Bergmann.


President Obama should have stuck to the adage that less is usually more. Instead of focusing on specific issues, the president presented a long domestic to-do list. Judging by that list, he has his work cut out for him, a sign that not all is well with the state of the union, contrary to his optimistic opening.

Dw Mitarbeiterin Studio Washington. DW Januar 2012
DW's Washington correspondent Christina BergmannImage: DW

Where to begin? Budget spending needs to be reined in, Medicare is in desperate need of reform, and tax loopholes need to be closed. America needs to create more jobs, especially in the industrial sector, while vocational training needs an overhaul and climate change must be combated. And the list goes on: the country's decrepit infrastructure, immigration policy, election laws and gun laws.

Been there, done that

In a nutshell, we've heard it all before. There were few concrete proposals, although he did lay out his plans to increase the minimum wage to $9. He also gave Congress an ultimatum on climate change, saying he would resort to executive actions if lawmakers dragged their feet.

But therein lies the problem. Republicans dominate the House of Representatives and are unlikely to show any willingness to compromise - apart from possibly on immigration reform. In his response to Obama's speech, Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio repeated the Republican mantra: less government is the panacea, and the president is the problem. That sounds like four more years of political stalemate.

In terms of foreign policy, Obama made a few fleeting remarks. The withdrawal from Afghanistan will go ahead as planned. Some 34,000 troops are set to come home by early next year. The president stressed that any future US military intervention would be a last resort, applicable also to the fight against al Qaeda. The world, he said, should no longer rely on the US to pull the chestnuts out of the fire.

Ahead of his Israel trip next month, Obama reiterated his support, an obligatory statement to avoid any type of criticism. There were brief admonitions for North Korea and Iran, and reassurances that the administration's controversial drone program was, is and would continue to stand on a sound legal footing. He also pledged to work together with Russia to further reduce the two countries' nuclear arsenals. There was good news for Europe with Obama's announcement to intensify talks about a trans-Atlantic trade pact, notwithstanding the fact that his agenda is driven by domestic interests, namely creating more American jobs.

A weight off his shoulders

Obama appeared more relaxed and more determined than during past speeches - which is no surprise, given that he's not fighting for reelection. However, his window of opportunity is closing. Congressional elections are coming up in two years. If he and his administration manage to push through immigration reform, that - together with his health care reform - would constitute an admirable achievement. He's unlikely to get more done. In that sense, his to-do list can be seen as a legacy for his successor - and as a sobering analysis of America's status quo.