The State of the Union address.  A great time to talk about how great and strong America is, despite the challenges we face.  A great time to talk about being “beyond parties and beyond politics.”  A great time for symbolism, rhetoric and a lot of pretty words.

But “don’t tell me words don’t matter.”  I will never forget President Obama’s election night speech with the repetition of “Just words?… Just words?… Just words?…”

Tonight as I watched, I thought, wow, these are great (and shared) ideals in many cases.  But it’s much easier to talk about goals than to talk about how to get there.  I also noticed that (like every other president before him) President Obama described many of his favorite policies from the 111th Congress with different words from words his opponents would use. 

Overall, I thought this was a good State of the Union speech.  I thought the President was wise to order his topics in this way: the economy, energy, education, immigration, health care, foreign policy.  Of course the main concern of most Americans and their families is the economy and jobs.  And he is much more likely to get a positive response from the audience while talking about opportunities than say, the huge increases in government spending related to his health care legislation.

It was about 45 minutes into his talk when I realized that everything he’d discussed so far was going to cost even more money (except of course, his suggestion that we stop giving money to oil companies). This is indicative of the approach to governing taken by the 111th Congress – spend, spend, spend, and then leave the last part of the speech (or the future generations) to figure out how to save money or make cuts.

The president painted several touching word pictures during his speech.  Desolate downtowns of smalltown, USA. Closed factories.  Or on the other hand, a fireman who can download the design of a burning building onto a mobile device.  The innovation to save trapped Chilean miners. 

The focus of his speech was on winning the future – moving from closed factories to a more robust economy through innovation.

Does he not realize that America’s biggest wins have taken place (and our future wins will take place) because of advancements from the private sector?  The next two years of his presidency will tell us if he plans to stay the current path or if he will indeed move toward the center and practice a true appreciation for the free enterprise system he praised tonight.

I agree with the President when he says that the phrases “All men are created equal” and “I have a dream” are much more than “just words.”  But unfortunately many of the great-sounding phrases he spoke tonight are just words, and they don’t matter.  Or, at least they won’t matter until we see action.