State Of the Union 2013: Speech Leaves Us With Many Unanswered Questions

The State of the Union address captured President Obama at his best. Beginning with a positive — yet somewhat realistic — vision to boost the economy, he continued with the strategies he hopes will tackle challenges from foreign policy to energy and the environment and immigration and gun control. But here are some of the questions left unanswered.

On the economy, Obama promised to bring manufacturing jobs home and simultaneously improve education and skill-based training for students. That’s easier said than done — consumer goods can’t maintain their low prices if they are made in America. And even with the promise to raise the minimum wage, more expensive goods manufactured at home might not be able to compete with cheaper goods made overseas.

Obama also reiterates his promise to reform the tax code to close loopholes and ensure that the rich pay their fair share. But as Senator Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) response exemplifies, the Republicans are bound to block higher taxes at every step of the way.

Obama reaffirms his shift from America's interventionist foreign policy (under George W. Bush) to a removed one. The troops are coming home from Afghanistan, regardless of what that really means for its citizens.

He vaguely promises to “keep the pressure” on the Syrian government, but does not elaborate on how this pressure will play out on the ground. Unless national security is explicitly threatened by an extremist, violent regime elsewhere, Obama does not intend to interfere. Syria is only one example of an international crisis that emerged during Obama’s first term on which he has decidedly acted only from a distance.

His goals for the next four years remain largely domestic — from addressing climate change to enacting swift immigration reform. Obama’s approach to the former is at odds with his sustained attempts to increase domestic oil and natural gas production. Generating more energy — even if it is clean, like solar or wind energy — only perpetuates excessive consumption and wastage. A more genuine, but likely less popular, approach to climate change would also include a plan to consume less energy more efficiently.

Keeping in line with the proposal on immigration reform he delivered in Las Vegas last month, Obama urged congress to put forward a bill that would secure the borders, give illegal immigrants a viable path to citizenship, and encourage legal immigration for highly-skilled workers. The president has repeatedly stated that we know how to fix the immigration system, and all that remains is action, but it remains unclear whether the GOP will support him. Although Rubio was part of a bipartisan group of senators who developed a similar framework to tackle immigration in January, he barely mentioned this in his response today.

Concluding with impassioned words on gun control, the president expressed his commitment to act without delay as he tugged at congress’s heartstrings with anecdotes about the families and communities torn apart by gun violence.

With much to hope for, but an undoubtedly uphill struggle ahead, Obama invited citizens to “write the next great chapter in our American story,” leaving a captivated audience with his sincerest promise to work for a better future.

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Shanoor Seervai

Shanoor Seervai has wanted to be a writer since she was four years old. She is currently based in Mumbai, where she writes about environmental and social issues, the non-profit sector, women's rights and arts and culture for The Wall Street Journal.

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