A matter of hours ago, President Obama gave his annual address on the State of the Union. It marked the end of one phase of his presidency and the start of another. Gone is the shining vision of the second term we hoped for. Gone is the gifted orator who campaigned on change. In his stead is a leader well aware of the scope of his control.
Looking out over a chamber full of military personnel, disobliging Democrats and obdurate Republicans (not to mention a television audience in the tens of millions, and #SOTU being tweeted about by most people in most places), Obama delivered a safe speech full of themes of continuity, perseverance, and the promise of prosperity, albeit slight, around the corner.
Even with a dreadful 2013 which saw his legislative plan stymied and his approval ratings slump to a historic low, the President decided not to chart a new route. Instead he outlined plans to clear his to-do list before an already spiritless administration prepares for another election.
The largely domestic, fiscal-based speech was scattered with well-worn ideas and economic policy, which Obama has relied on time and again, without actually making them happen. Though the focus on economic disparity and a call for better upward mobility does echo that wave of populism piercing through the Democrats, and it’s uncommon to see that from a party in government.
The hike in minimum wage, which will only affect half a million Americans, (from $7 to $10.10) does follow his rhetoric on needing to strengthen the middle classes, but it was disappointing that he didn’t go near the pressing issues, like gun control or Syria. There was only one newly-issued concrete number: this Presidency’s immigration reform (which can’t begin without the consent of congress) would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over twenty years. It sounds like a lot before you consider Obama’s adding $1 trillion to the deficit every four years.
But the soberest theme across the entire address exuded optimism and an approaching directness. With or without congress, you the people are with me. Everyone knows my relationship with the House is not good, but we can do it together. I will get it done “with my pen and phone”.
And yet the opposition won’t go away. After Obama’s first year, with a fast burst of dramatic legislative accomplishments ushered though during a brief phase of one-party Democratic rule in DC, the Republicans have set their eyes on precluding the President. That is why we all feel so underwhelmed in Obama’s actions now. They’re slowed.
Doubly bad because it hasn’t come off well for the opposition either. The government showdown/shutdown of 2013 has meant the Republicans and the Tea Party members have had to go back to their states and explain to their constituents why they let the US government be threatened, and haven’t come up with a decent excuse. So congress might let Obama have this one, since congress doesn’t always make the best decisions.
But has the President made the best decisions, considering his first promise in the job was to close Guantanamo Bay prison, and it still hasn’t happened? He said, hours ago, that 2014 would be the year in which Gitmo would be gone. What’s been stopping him these past four years?
The full text of the State of the Union address is available here.