Watch what he does, not what he says: Decoding President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech (including link to text)

President Barack Obama delivered the annual “State of the Union” address to the Congress on Tuesday, January 28, 2014. For the text of the speech, see

The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address,” January 28, 2014

Advice for for Decoding the Speech

The advice for decoding the significance of President Barack Obama’s “State of the Union” speech on January 28, 2014 is straightforward:

Ignore the torrent of finely crafted language in which the president seeks to impress you with his knowledge of the problems of the nation and the world, what in his head he thinks should be done, and to persuade you and the nation that he is right.

What is in his head and in his words is almost if not entirely irrelevant, except to the extent it is revealed through his actions. What he is really thinking, in consequential terms, is particularly difficult to discern by merely analyzing the words he speaks.

Watch instead his actions, tonight and over the coming months and years. Watch for announcement of significant actions that he has taken or will take very shortly.

Then, watch what he does. All the rest is either rhetoric or Obamian intellectual analysis that has no meaning without actions to back up the words. If he speaks of democracy and human rights in Africa, for example, take a careful look at the budget for foreign assistance to build civil society and democratic government in the 54 nations of the continent.

Obama speaks now of attacking inequality, but when he had a chance to actually do something about it he quickly folded, agreeing to maintain the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy who earn between $250,000 and $450,000 per year.

And watch out for hints that he will try to do what Congress won’t do, by executive decree.

The most important issue facing the nation is what the President or the people are going to do to reign in an out-of-control national security and intelligence bureaucracy which is hell-bent on building instruments of potential totalitarian control.

Here, more than anywhere else, one will need to penetrate the smoke and mirrors of Obama’s clever language, and look hard at what capabilities remain in place after whatever “reforms” he may announce are implemented.

Most important will be what actions, if any, Obama announces regarding the secrecy of legal memos and legal justifications for any secret operations–from drone strikes in Somalia to continuing massive surveillance throughout the world.

We know Obama. Watch what he does, not what he says.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.