WASHINGTON - President Obama threw down the gauntlet in his State of the Union address, Jan. 24, vowing to fight for an economy that serves the interests of the vast majority, not the wealthy few, and also requiring millionaires to pay their "fair share" in taxes.
The speech was widely seen as the opening shot of Obama's reelection bid and he went on the attack. Without mentioning the Occupy Wall Street movement by name, he echoed their "99% vs. 1%" populist theme, hammering Wall Street banks, corporate greed, deregulation, and lawmakers who serve the interests only of the wealthy one percent while running roughshod over the working class majority.
"The State of the Union is getting stronger," he said. "And we've come too far to turn back now. As long as I'm president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action and I will oppose any effort to return to the same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."
The speech was greeted by many grassroots organizations, even as some voiced concerns or hoped he had gone further on a range of specific issues he mentioned.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said, "The president voiced the aspirations and concerns of those who are too often ignored" laying out a vision of an America that creates "jobs and prosperity for all instead of wealth for the few."
The labor federation president cited Obama's stress on restoring manufacturing and contrasted his speech with the Republican's answer delivered by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels who is pushing a union-busting "Right-to-work (for less)" law through the Indiana legislature.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, applauded the president for "adopting our longstanding priority of economic stability in communities of color, for his bold stand on job creation, and for leading the charge on reversing the economic crisis."
At the same time, Jealous denounced the "obstructionist leaders in Congress" and called on the House and Senate to approve Obama's job creation legislation including the American Jobs Act that "would create 1.9 million jobs" and "his summer jobs and tourism initiative that will create hundreds of thousands more..."
The National Council of La Raza welcomed Obama's call for comprehensive immigration reform and for speedy enactment of the Dream Act "allowing hundreds of thousands" of immigrant youth to stay in the U.S. to study and work toward citizenship.
The Sierra Club, 350.org and the Energy Action Coalition staged a protest demonstration on Capitol Hill the day of the speech to protest the "pipeline of money flowing between Big Oil and Congress." They thanked Obama for halting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, while at the same time raised concerns about parts of his energy plan.
A Greenberg, Quinlan, Posner telephone survey after the speech of 50 swing Denver voters, 44 percent Republican leaning and 32 percent Democrat was headlined "President Obama Scores with Middle Class Message."
Before the speech, 50 percent had a favorable view of Obama. After the speech, his job approval rose 8 percent and his personal rating rose 16 points to 66 percent.
In his speech, the president announced that he has ordered the Attorney General to set up a special unit to investigate Wall Street fraud to "hold accountable those who broke the law..."
In response, MoveOn called on their members to thank the president via Facebook.
"President Obama did exactly what hundreds of thousands of us have been calling on him to do," said Elena Perez, MoveOn political action director. "This is truly a huge victory for the 99 percent movement."
MoveOn had just sent 360,000-signed petitions to the White House urging an investigation of Wall Street crime.
Obama touched on a wide range of issues in his 65-minute speech. He called for a "Buffet rule" to force millionaires like Warren Buffet to pay their share of taxes. He called for passage of the Dream Act to allow undocumented youth who have lived most of their lives in the U.S. to attend college and apply for citizenship.
End tax subsidies to oil companies, he said, and increase subsidies for renewable energy sources. Impose a tax on corporations that export jobs and use the revenues to help subsidize manufacturing in the U.S.
"Washington is broken," he said, calling on the lawmakers to clean their own house by adopting rules that bar "insider trading" by Congress members. He decried as a "fiasco" Republican threats to shut down the government if the administration didn't go along with extending tax cuts for millionaires. "Can you blame them [the people] for feeling a little cynical?"
Just before he mounted the platform, Obama greeted Rep. Gabriela Giffords, D-Ariz., standing on the House floor beside her Arizona colleague, Rep. Raul Grijalva. She was gravely wounded in the head by a deranged gunman in Tucson a year ago. Giffords, who has fought heroically to regain her health, had just announced her resignation. The president walked over and embraced her, a tender moment that brought home the cost of the nation's unbridled gun violence and rightwing hate.
Photo: President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)