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Obama's State of the Union Rhetoric

Every speechwriter knows that when a politician needs a speech, there are certain key words and phrases to hit on. In the case of the President of the United States, they are usually things like “hope” and “challenge” and “promise.” There is also the seminal standby: reaching across the aisle to work with (fill in opposing political party here).

While listening to President Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week, I heard two red flags mixed into the smooth delivery. One was that I felt like I was listening to a politician’s speech. The only thing missing was the free lunch that usually comes as a consolation prize when sitting through an event with a keynote speaker who rambles on for 30 or 40 minutes. (It was much longer in this case, by the way). The second red flag is that I could hear the speechwriter’s voice in the speech, mostly in the attempts at witty phrasing. My personal favorite: Sputnik moment. As soon as I heard Obama say it, I could see it in a newspaper headline. That could be because I’m a journalist, but it could also be because my country’s political discourse seems to have been reduced to a game of key-word catch phrases. It happened during the height of the healthcare reform debate. It happened in the aftermath of the recent Arizona shootings. And it happened during Obama’s State of the Union speech.

So it begs the question: if I think politicians, including the president, are just full of hot air–because it’s their job to pontificate–then what would I like to hear them say?

To begin with, I wouldn’t mind hearing Obama address the fact that our country continues to fail to truly bring countries like China to task for egregious human rights violations. China’s leader, Hu Jintao, just swept through the US earlier this month to a cavalcade of red carpet events and high-level meetings. It seemed that the only people with the chutzpah to raise questions about why China continues to kill its own citizens who dissent with the ruling regime were reporters. Good on them for doing their job well.

I also wouldn’t mind hearing Obama address the fact that members of our military who have been returning from Iraq and Afghanistan these past several years are increasingly committing suicide. Many of those who don’t kill themselves are suffering in a dark haze of PTSD, virtually unnoticed. It sounds worse than empty when the Commander in Chief stands up in front of the country and talks about the men and women who serve in the military overseas, but fails to mention that we face a domestic mental health crisis among many vets who return home.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that Obama is a populist president, though, which helps him tremendously when he speaks to the nation. He can talk about the hard work it takes to get an education, or find a place in the workforce, and you know he has personal, lived experience behind the words. His story is the American story of struggle and rewards earned through perseverance. So when he makes major speeches in the future, maybe he can bring that audacity he drew on to succeed in life to take a stronger stance on issues that he shied away from this week.



Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society