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January 28, 2010

Obama’s 2010 SOTU: A Shift Homeward to Keep America Number 1 Abroad
Posted by The Editors

The following post is by Brian Katulis, A Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

One thing that President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address will be remembered for is the point when his administration started to put an even sharper focus on tending to the problems at home than it did in its first year. 

Traditional national security issues represented around 15 percent of the overall speech, which was about the same percentage for national security as President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union address, and a sharp decline from President Bush's State of the Union speeches (national security was nearly half of the 2008 Bush address).

President Obama spent more time overseas and visiting more countries in his first year than any other president in the history of the country, but the second year will be more focused at home.  President Obama signaled that more of his time and attention will be dedicated to core domestic issues like jobs and health care - this morning’s Washington Post headline reads: “Obama’s sole mission - The economy.”

But make no mistake - the speech was no retreat into isolationism. On core national security issues, President Obama presented, as Heather Hurlburt noted, a blend of toughness and engagement. And in fact, much of his domestic agenda - state action to deal with the economy and invest in the future - was framed in the context of keeping America on top in the world.

One of the strongest and emotionally resonant portions of the speech was when Obama framed the country’s entire predicament in a global context:

“How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.”

At one point, I thought I hear a faint chanting in Congress of “we’re number one, we’re number one.”  This recognition that we need to be strong at home in order to remain strong in the world is something I’ve written about before.  My colleague Nina Hachigian has called this blending of foreign and domestic policy “formestic” in this piece

What we saw last night was the unveiling of the first 21st century foreign policy framework - one that no longer divides the world between good and evil, but instead recognizes that our fates at home are inextricably linked to what happens overseas, now more than ever and vice versa.  It’s a message Obama outlined in his speech to the United Nations last fall, and it’s one that will continue, even as our political debates shift even more inward this coming year.

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