I side with the liberals on one thing: it was arguably the most liberal speech our president has given. Which is news, of a sort. But I side with the conservatives in thinking that this was largely a big yawn. The president gave a speech which maks his base happy, but entirely on symbolic grounds. He promised nothing of substance, and covered no issue which actually commits him to delivering anything. Obama is against “perpetual war”, but also wants to support democracy and “act on behalf of those who long for freedom.” He wants shorter voting lines and “a better way to welcome” immigrants. He wants children to be safe and cared for. The last is a vague hope shared by all Americans (no really–even the ones who disagree with you about stuff!) The rest are carefully phrased to offer no actual benchmarks.
The speech does seem to be promising more on gay marriage and climate change, but whatever he is promising, he has no way to deliver. Climate change is, for reasons I recently outlined, not going anywhere. Marriage is largely a state matter, and while there are federal initiatives he might push (like making gay couples eligible for social security, or various tax credits), I am extremely skeptical that Obama could or would push them through the legislature. Gay marriage is advancing rapidly, but it is not yet so popular that Obama can count on public opinion to force the GOP’s hand; rather the reverse, if anything. Especially since any such bills would come with a non-insubstantial price tag, at a time when the public is starting to push back against the debt.