President Obama's State of the Union Address covered everything from immigration reform to fixing bridges to withdrawing from Afghanistan. But there were five proposals that could be true game-changers.
1. Universal Pre-K
Obama proposed "high quality" universal preschool for every American little one starting at the age of 4. Studies have shown that preschool shows benefits in a child's life all the way through adulthood. As Obama said, "we know what works, so let's do what works." It's been pointed out that he's vague on the high quality part of things: how would that be ensured, incentivized or measured? Unclear. Still, it's a great idea, and if it actually happens, it will be a major part of Obama's legasy.
2. Climate Change: "If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will."
We knew that climate change was going to be a big part of the State of the Union after it got more attention than any other issue during Obama's inauguration speech in January. It was the method of enacting climate change policies that could literally alter the landscape (and I consider myself a defender of the true meaning of "literally"). Chris Hayes made the point to Rachel Maddow last night that the Environmental Protection Agency can potentially institute something analogous to cap and trade without the help of Congress. This might be news to Congress.
3. $9/hr. Minimum Wage and Indexing Minimum Wage to the Cost of Living
Republicans will kick and scream about how this will kill jobs, but raising the minimum wage might be such a populist juggernaut that it gets through Congress. With immigration reform next on the agenda, and possibly climate change after that, the Obama Administration might stall a little to see if they have a shot at taking back the House in 2014, but they also might see how fractured the Republican caucus is. How many Republicans will hold the line against a minimum wage increase if voters believe that voting for a Democrat could give them a significant paycheck boost? It's also excellent economic policy: it helps people get out of poverty and almost all of that increase will get recirculated into the economy almost immediately, because the people with the least money do the least saving.
4. 34,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan over the Next Year
This one was leaked ahead of time, but it still deserves a spot on this list. It will be years before we have any hope of calling Afghanistan a functional, peaceful nation, but it's no longer clear how much we can help, and our presence there was an unpaid-for investment we can't afford. Obama's State of the Union announcement means that troops will be leaving steadily until the last of them are gone by 2014.
5. Gun Violence: "They deserve a vote!"
This one has to round out the list partly for what was said, but mostly how it was said. The largest emotional swell of the night came when Obama called for a straight vote on gun reforms.
It's a stirring moment that only grows as Obama and the supportive (though, of course, not entirely supportive) audience stand and cheer him on. It is the power of this emotional swell that might actually lead both chambers of Congress to an up-or-down vote on gun reforms, and the changing political dynamics around gun issues mean that universal background checks and other substantial reforms have a real chance of passing.