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Missing from State of the Union: Obama's audacity of hope -- to help 'most vulnerable'

If President Obama is really committed to 'win the future,' he needs more than modest, bipartisan reforms. He needs bold plans to lift up America's most vulnerable, for the sake of the nation.

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In a speech as significant as the State of the Union, what is left unsaid matters as much as what is said.

Last night, President Obama laid out a clear charge: to “win the future.” Focusing on the steps to help America compete in the 21st century, the president outlined a vision to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” in order to secure greater prosperity for all.

Yet the modest sampling of policy proposals seemed to pivot away from the ambitious attempt to take on long-term problems that marked the first two years of Mr. Obama’s administration, leaving unanswered the question of how exactly to win the future. The reality is that what it will really take to “win the future” is not a modest package of new programs and reforms that appeals to both sides of the aisle. It’s at least as much bold thinking as the president embraced over the past two years, and then a little more.

How much do you know about the State of the Union speeches? A quiz

The address echoed some of Obama’s most celebrated speeches, such as the campaign speech on race and his recent address in Tucson. Rather than delving into policy specifics, the president played to his greatest strength – an ability to rise above politics and speak to the basic principles that unify Americans across the political spectrum.

Last night, that value was one of opportunity – America as “the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.”

Plan to innovate, but few clear steps

To help restore opportunity in America, the president outlined a plan to invest in innovation, reform education, and replace our crumbling infrastructure, while providing greater access to wireless and Internet-based technology.

The final step to winning the future, said Obama, was strong action to rein in deficits through a proposed five-year freeze on non-security, discretionary domestic spending (which the president himself acknowledged only comprises 12 percent of the federal budget).

Despite the president’s call to “take on the challenges that have been decades in the making,” he offered few clear steps to address some of the biggest obstacles he outlined.

This marks a genuine contrast to the governing approach we witnessed over the past two years. The stimulus, health-care reform, and financial reform initiatives together formed a bold trilogy aimed squarely at long-term structural problems.

Six big achievements of a surprisingly 'do something' Congress

Last night, with the exception of immigration, an issue the president said “we should take on, once and for all,” Obama either did not address – or backed away from – some of the greatest long-term challenges we face.


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