Obama charts path to future
State of the Union speeches are gala events in terms of theatrics, but mostly much ado about little.
President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech wasn't much to write home about. But, really, how many of them are?
Who but the most dedicated president-watcher or those who have no choice can bear these boring reveries? Presidents see them as valuable political platforms to promote their political agendas. But our representative democracy was not structured to act with the dispatch presidents traditionally urge when they take the stage to tell the American people that the state of the union is good and then urge adoption of dozens of programs to fix it.
Take Obama's declaration that the state of the union is good. It's clearly not good. It's not terrible. Circumstances are not unsalvageable. But it's not accurate to say that the state of the union is good unless most people are OK with unemployment approaching 8 percent, a slow recovery that could easily fall back into recession, trillion-dollar annual budget deficits and a national debt of around $16 trillion. No matter how one defines it, that is not good.
That said, there was not too much to quibble about in Obama's address. His politics now are an open book. It's no surprise that he offered more of the same: a call to arms for government action by a president who believes that government programs are the road to salvation.
He called for more infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy, more investment in solar and wind power and more and higher taxes on the wealthy to finance more social programs. He jabbed congressional Republicans for what he considers to be their unworthy suggestions and suggested that doing things his way is not just the right but the only way to go.
That's what presidents do on these occasions. They lay out their plans and urge their adoption. Some, like Reagan and Clinton, are more willing to work with legislators of the other party than others, like Johnson and Obama.
In the end, it all gets worked out one way or the other. That's why Obama may get legislation on gun control and immigration that he can sign into law.
But State of the Union speeches are mostly hot air, posturing and theatrics that presidents and legislators use to position themselves with voters. If, a week later, anything said during these ceremonies actually is remembered, it's the exception, not the rule.