WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called Tuesday night for Americans to unleash their creative spirits, set aside their partisan differences and come together around a common goal of out-competing other nations in a rapidly shifting global economy.
In a State of the Union address to a newly divided Congress, Obama outlined what his advisers called his “plan to win the future” — a blueprint for spending in key areas like education, high-speed rail, clean energy technology and high-speed Internet. At the same time, he proposed deficit-cutting measures, including a five-year freeze in spending on some domestic programs.
His message seemed intended to elevate his presidency above the legislative gamesmanship that defined the first two years of his term. With one eye toward his 2012 re-election campaign, he made the case that the nation has at long last emerged from economic darkness, and he sought to reposition himself as the post-partisan, pragmatic leader who strode to victory in 2008. The White House released the text of the speech before its delivery.
“At stake right now is not who wins the next election — after all, we just had an election,” Obama said in the advance copy of the text. “At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.”
He did not address gun control, a hotly debated topic in the wake of the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and 19 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who suffered a grave gunshot wound to the head. Giffords’ colleagues planned to hold a seat open for her in the House chamber; many are expected to wear black and white ribbons in her honor.
He did not lay out a specific plan for addressing the long-term costs of Social Security and Medicare, the biggest fiscal challenges facing the government. He addressed immigration only in general terms. And he talked only briefly about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead, Obama used his address to sketch out the philosophical framework that will govern the remaining two years of his first term in office, as well as his re-election campaign — and to draw a contrast between himself and Republicans, who are advocating deep and immediate cuts in federal spending.
Obama made the case for a leaner but still active government that can play a vital role in creating the conditions for Americans to succeed in an increasingly competitive economy. With nations like China and India on the rise, he argued, America has no choice but to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.
“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business,” Obama said. “We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future.”