WASHINGTON – Pleading for unity in a newly divided government, President Barack Obama implored Democratic and Republican lawmakers to rally behind his vision of economic revival for an anxious nation, declaring in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: “We will move forward together or not at all.”
To a television audience in the millions, Obama addressed a Congress sobered by the assassination attempt against one if its own members, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her seat sat empty, and many lawmakers of competing parties sat together in a show of civility. Yet, differences were still evident, as when Democrats stood to applaud his comments on his health care law, while Republicans sat mute next to them.
In his best chance of the year to connect with the country, Obama devoted most of his prime-time address to the economy, the issue that dominates concern in a nation still reeling from a monster recession – and the one that will shape his own political fortunes in the 2012 election.
The president unveiled an agenda of carefully balanced political goals: a burst of spending on education, research, technology and transportation to make the nation more competitive, alongside pledges, in the strongest terms of his presidency, to cut the deficit and smack down spending deemed wasteful to America.
Calling for a new day of cooperation, Obama said: “What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
On a night typically known for its political theater, the lawmakers sometimes seemed subdued, as if still in the shadow of the Arizona shootings.