He used some of the tough talk that earned him reputation for frankness along the campaign trail, earning his longest and most spontaneous applause for challenging every American to get at least one year of secondary education or training and saying dropping out of high school was “no longer an option.”
“It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American,” he said, as the chamber and galleries above rose to cheer.
The speech also gave the president a chance to offer his own spin in a preview of the budget blueprint that he will lay out Thursday.
Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Obama used campaign-style tactics to sell his $787 billion economic-stimulus plan earlier this month.
Although such tactics helped the president build record support for himself and the plan in the polls, Mr. Obama must get into the nitty-gritty details, Mr. Franc said.
“If he stays at 30,000 feet, he’s going to risk being thought of as the permanent campaigner,” Mr. Franc said. “He’ll seem like a one-trick pony who gives a great speech, but doesn’t really know how to manipulate the levers of government or be a real leader.”
“At some point, you want to know during a crisis your president has a grasp of the details and not just someone up on stage delivering a good line on command,” he said.
The president told lawmakers that he wanted to explain exactly how his economic agenda would include “hard choices” for deficit reduction and said his administration already had identified more than $2 trillion in budget savings.
Mr. Obama said everyone - including himself - must “sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars.”
He also directly asked Congress to send him legislation capping carbon pollution as part of an overall energy plan.
Having previously offered partisan jabs at Mr. Bush and having been the subject of relentless attacks from congressional Republicans - all but three of whom voted against his economic stimulus - Mr. Obama was on the other side and had to cater not just to his own voters, but also to the nation at large.
But much of the address smacked of his campaign rhetoric, from his booming declaration that health care reform “cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year” to the gushing supporters in the chamber chanting his signature “Fired up. Ready to go” slogan after the speech.
Although he was more detailed Tuesday, Mr. Obama, like past presidents in this forum, duplicated his successful campaign tactic of using personal stories to bolster his policy platform.
Joining first lady Michelle Obama in her box in the House chamber were a Republican governor who backed his stimulus plan, a solar executive who benefited from its provisions and a South Carolina preteen who wrote a letter to the president asking for her crumbling school to be rebuilt. Mr. Obama mentioned several of his wife’s guests during the address.
Mr. Obama is known for his speechmaking and has excelled in seven major critical addresses - his inaugural speech, his election night victory, his acceptance of the Democratic nomination, a global address in Berlin, a speech on race relations in America, an address to supporters after his first primary win in Iowa and his 2004 national political debut at the Democratic National Convention.