There's no two ways about it, the stakes going into this, his sixth State of the Union Address (SOTU), were dazzlingly high for President Obama. 2013 was absolutely ruinous for the President, his administration, the Democratic Party and America as a whole. And it shows in his approval rating. As of this evening, the once and future heir to Camelot sat somewhere in the 40's, pretty much where he's been since last summer.
With NSA spying, Obamacare lying and IRS intimidation to name a few, a series of train wrecks derailed Obama's agenda last year and gravely threatened his political viability going forward. With nobody but himself to blame (though Lord knows he's tried) we were greeted tonight by a president on the verge of becoming a lame duck with three years to go in his second term.
On the heels of today's Executive Order regarding minimum wage, President Obama faced a nation experiencing a crisis of confidence in his leadership. His was a promise of a new America built upon bold ideas forged in the crucible of bipartisanship. Instead we got a lazy statesman eerily more comfortable wielding unilateral executive authority than actual state craft to build his utopia. Even the hard core Kool Aid drinkers are starting to put down their glasses and for the first time anyone can recall, 2014 finds a shaken President Obama.
On the whitehouse.gov stream of the SOTU, right next to the video feed, was a slide show underscoring and expanding upon the President's points. While he was telling the story about the woman who lost her job a week after buying her dream home, there ran a concurrent slide telling viewers that "1.6 million Americans have had their benefits TAKEN AWAY by Republicans." The implication that those temporary benefits are somehow the property of the recipients, as though they're a God given right is chilling to me. That's exactly the type of message that buys a lot of votes.
On the Second Amendment
As ever, he points to Sandy Hook and Aurora, CO as the places where American gun violence must be stopped. As ever, he completely misses the point. To effectively address gun violence in America, we cannot continue to lean on and hem in law abiding gun owners. Instead we must take up the painful and political difficult task of confronting the gang violence that has metastasized in cities from coast to coast.
On The Executive Order to Raise Minimum Wage
The President bragged about his Executive Order forcing Federal contractors to pay all workers at least $10.10/hour. What struck me is that these are for Federal workers, meaning people whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars. So with one stroke of the pen, the president plans to write yet another check that we must all pay for while he enjoys the political windfall.
He REALLY needs Americans to sign up for this debacle.
As ever, President Obama was up to the task of delivering a sterling address. This is, after all, his wheel house; shining speeches delivered through steely eye contact and the artful use of a teleprompter. In our lifetimes, we may never see the likes of this man again and damn if he doesn't sound convincing! Provided you don't stop to think about what his sentences actually mean.
What stood out to me the most is what I also feared the most. I lost count how many times President Obama promised (or threatened) to force this country into the mold he has envisioned through the use of executive orders. On matters of the economy, fuel independence, gun violence, education - virtually every topic, he stated that if he couldn't get Congress to act, to his liking, that he'd enact whatever unilateral solutions he deemed necessary. That scares the hell out of me.
Everything else seemed especially hollow. So much was left unsaid about topics that matter so much. On other matters such as Tax Code Reform, Foreign Policy, Guantanamo Bay and Immigration Reform, he merely repeated experts from speeches he's given for years... And never acted upon.
What's more, I expected that, knowing that he's been politically compromised, President Obama might strike a more muted tone as he sought to define the new boundaries of his current situation. I'd hoped he'd be conciliatory and willing to work with Congress in the best interests of the American people. Instead, he seemed more antagonistic than ever, goading Republicans as I've never seen him do outside of the campaign trail.
Time will tell what comes of all this, as it always does, but I expect to see more over the coming year that we've seen of late, and certainly in line with President Obama's own admission tonight of heavily relying on executive orders to accomplish whatever limited goals he can.
What I will not hold my breath waiting for is a conciliatory president seeking to build new alliances and find consensus ahead of the 2014 Midterm Elections. Like the party faithful on both sides of the aisle in Congress, I expect the President to knuckle down and concede nothing in the misguided belief that doing so somehow equates to victory and the good faith execution of the duties of his office. The good of the people be damned.
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