Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Message

— Bonnie Squires

President Barack Obama spoke in his State of the Union address about the election in Sudan and the revolution in Tunisia:

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power — it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan — with our assistance — the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

My husband, a native of Tunisia, who has been following events there minute by minute with great interest, using the internet, Skype, and emails to communicate with family and friends in that North African nation, certainly perked up when he heard President Obama stand with the democratic desire of the Tunisian populace.

Earlier in the evening, before hearing the President’s speech, we had been to the Dona Gracia chapter of Hadassah in center city, where our friend Jerry Sorkin, who runs a touring agency called TunisUSA, and who was flying to Tunisia the very next day, gave an edifying lecture on the history of the Jewish community in Tunisia and the unique nature of the Tunisian psyche.

Unlike other Arab countries, Tunisia has always lived side by side with their Jewish citizens.  In fact, there is a Jewish senator in the Tunisian Parliament.  And Tunisians who have migrated to France and Israel feel comfortable in returning to Tunisia once or twice a year to celebrate Jewish holidays.

In analyzing the unfolding events of the Tunisian revolution, Sorkin pointed out that there have not been any examples of Tunisian turning against Tunisian, no example of hostility against other countries, no incidents of anti-Semitic behavior.

Senator Bob Casey spoke to members of the media by phone after the President’s remarks, and I got a chance to ask him his reaction to the President’s comments on Tunisia.

Senator Casey is the Chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Middle East.  So he must be watching events unfolding in Tunisia with particular interest.

Senator Casey said that, regarding the Tunisia question, there was “bipartisan consensus.”  He continued,

Whether it is Tunisia or democratic movements in Iran or around the world, we’ve always been a beacon of light for the democratic forces.  And that continues in our support for the people of Tunisia – it’s a situation in a place that bears a lot of watching and vigilance.  I think it was very important that the President, with the full support of the Congress,  as you saw, is in full support of Tunisia.

More after the jump.
Although Senator Casey called it “a very strong speech, especially about jobs,” he wants to look more closely at the President’s pledge to cut domestic spending for the next five years.  Casey wants to see how this might impact on Pennsylvania.

He expressed great pride that the President and Mrs. Obama had three people from Pennsylvania seated in places of honor, plus the mention of Scranton, the birthplace of Vice President Biden, and the hometown of Senator Casey was well. Casey pointed out that, even though Brandon Ford, the junior from West Philadelphia High School’s Automotive Academy was not mentioned in the President’s speech, he was seated on the front row of the First Lady’s box.  

Although Casey and Senator Pat Toomey, the new Republican senator, had originally planned to sit together in the chamber for the State of the Union address, there were no seats left together.  So they did walk in together, and Toomey made it a pint to come find Casey after the speech so they could walk out together.

In a lighter vein, Senator Casey pointed out that the President did not predict the outcome of the Super Bowl, but Casey expressed confidence that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win.



  1. Publisher says

    Crossposted from Media Matters for America

    Fox News’ Todd Starnes objected to President Obama’s words of support for “the people of Tunisia” during the State of the Union address. Starnes wrote on his Twitter account: “I thought this was the State of our Union?” However, Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush also referenced democratic movements in foreign countries during State of the Union addresses.

    Fox’s Starnes: “Tunisia? I Thought This Was The State Of Our Union?” During President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 25, Fox News Radio anchor Todd Starnes posted the following tweet to his Twitter account:

    Presidents Reagan, George W. Bush Also Remarked On Standing With People Seeking Freedom

    Reagan: “We’re Here To Stand, And Proudly So, For All Who Struggle To Break Free From Totalitarianism.” From President Reagan’s State of the Union Address on February 6, 1985:

    For an America of compassion that opens its heart to those who cry out for help.

       We have begun well. But it’s only a beginning. We’re not here to congratulate ourselves on what we have done but to challenge ourselves to finish what has not yet been done.

       We’re here to speak for millions in our inner cities who long for real jobs, safe neighborhoods, and schools that truly teach. We’re here to speak for the American farmer, the entrepreneur, and every worker in industries fighting to modernize and compete. And, yes, we’re here to stand, and proudly so, for all who struggle to break free from totalitarianism, for all who know in their hearts that freedom is the one true path to peace and human happiness.


       We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that’s not innocent; nor can we be passive when freedom is under siege. Without resources, diplomacy cannot succeed. Our security assistance programs help friendly governments defend themselves and give them confidence to work for peace. And I hope that you in the Congress will understand that, dollar for dollar, security assistance contributes as much to global security as our own defense budget.

       We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives–on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua–to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.

    Bush: “America Stands With You And The Iraqi People As You Build A Free And Peaceful Nation.” From President Bush’s State of the Union address on January 20, 2004:

    The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right. Last January, Iraq’s only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today, our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law with a bill of rights. We’re working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June.

       As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends, but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.

       Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome one of Iraq’s most respected leaders, the current President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi. Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation.

    Bush: “To The Iranian People, I Say Tonight: As You Stand For Your Own Liberty, America Stands With You.” From President Bush’s State of the Union Address on February 2, 2005:

    In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades. The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror and replace hatred with hope is the force of human freedom. Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the “evil principle” of democracy. And we’ve declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.


       To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The Government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

       To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed and we are applying the Syrian Accountability Act, and we expect the Syrian Government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

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