State of the Union 2014

Ken AshfordObama & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I thought Obama's speech was wonderful.  It wasn't very ambitious, but the tone was amazing.  It was nationalistic and populistic, and very non-partisan.  The non-partisan nature of it was clearly disappointing to the Fox News people, who clearly were hoping to engage in post-speech whining and victimhood.  Obama simply said, "Here are the problems; here's what I can do as President; I hope Congress will join me."  

The thing was, Obama didn't need to bash Republicans to make them look bad.  All he had to do was say "Women deserve to be paid the same as men for the same work" and then have all the Republicans sit on their hands while everyone else stood and applauded.  They made themselves look bad, again and again.

The best commentary I've read so far comes from the New York Times contributing writer, Timothy Egan:

The least productive Congress in nearly half a century has rarely looked more out-of-sorts than during the speech that put its members on notice for their irrelevance. That, essentially, was the triumph of the rhetorical trick President Obama employed in his fifth State of the Union address.

The president’s wish list — a rise in the minimum wage, healthcare that doesn’t dump sick people, resolve to do something over the basic fact of climate change and the scourge of income inequality — is backed in poll after poll by a majority of Americans. What stands in the way of doing something about these issues are the people who sat on their hands Tuesday night in that chamber.

For some time now, the Republican House has made it clear that they have no intention of governing. They shut down the government for 16 days, in case you didn’t get the point. And on Tuesday, they seemed more interested in having their pictures taken with the “Duck Dynasty” guy than finding middle ground with the American majority. For freak value on the fringe, Representative Randy Weber, Republican of Texas, tweeted just before the speech: “Waiting for the Kommandant-in-Chef [sic]” and the “Socialist dictator who been feeding US a line.”

Need more proof? Two-thirds of Americans rated this Congress the worst in their lifetime, in a recent CNN poll. And 81 percent disapproved of them in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

What Obama did in his speech, in outlining a unilateral map for the sixth year of his presidency, was to finally join the majority of citizens in dismissing the lawmakers who will not do their bidding. On raising the minimum wage, Obama framed it as a simple measure to keep out of poverty the people “who cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes.”

In one of the speech highlights, he urged Republicans to “join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give Americans a raise.” That was the Democratic campaign slogan going into the midterms, birthed in the den of the opposition.

Having marginalized a branch of government that is already on the wrong side of popular sentiment, Obama now takes his bully pulpit on the road, to Nashville and Milwaukee and other stops. But if he really hopes to have a lasting impact — “I really want to make a difference,” he told The New Yorker — he has to do more than staged road stopovers. If he’s truly going to take his case to the people, he has to spend more time with the people. For starters, he could treat the West Coast, a big part of his base, as something more than a fundraising fount.

It’s certainly heartening to hear Obama, in full-throated defiance that is rare for him, proclaim, “America will not stand still — and neither will I.” But executive orders can only go so far. He needs the majority of the people back with him in order to govern around the say-no, do-nothing Congress. This speech was a muscular start — one of the better efforts by a man whose orator skills were missing for most of the last year.

Noticeably missing from the speech was any reference to NSA reform, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement — both of which are of tremendous concern to the left base.