I anticipated the State of the Union Address, more or less, correctly, though I underestimated Obama’s forthrightness. He entered softly, calling for bi-partisanship, but he followed up with a pretty big stick, strongly arguing for his agenda, including, most spectacularly, the matter of class and class conflict, daring the Republicans to dissent, ending the speech on a high emotional note on gun violence and the need to have a vote on legislation addressing the problem. Before the speech, I wondered how President Obama would balance assertion of his program with reaching out to Republicans. This was an assertive speech.
The script was elegantly crafted, as usual, and beautifully performed, as well. He embodied his authority, with focused political purpose aimed at the middle class. This got me thinking. As a sociologist, I find public middle class talk confusing, though over the years I have worked to understand the politics. I think last night it became clear, both the politics and the sociology.
Obama is seeking to sustain his new governing coalition, with the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the bi-partisan coalition in the House, although he is working to form the coalition more aggressively than I had expected. He is addressing the House through “the people,” with their middle class identities, aspirations and fears.
In my last post, I observed and then suggested:
“Obama’s recent legislative victories included Republican votes on the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. I believe he will talk about the economy in such a way that he strengthens his capacity to draw upon this new governing coalition. He will do it in the name of the middle class and those aspiring to be in the middle class. This is the formulation of Obama for ordinary folk, the popular classes, the great bulk of the demos, the people. In this speech and in others, they are the subjects of change, echoing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: government of the . . .