To be fair, that is probably the case more often then people realize. True, LBJ declared war on poverty and Reagan noted his Social Security deal with congressional Democrats in SOTUs. It was also in SOTUs that the failed Clinton health care and Bush Social Security plans were advertised to Congress and the American people. Not the mention the ’74 SOTU in which Nixon claimed, “one year of Watergate is enough!”
What’s my problem with this year’s address? Simple. We have a do-nothing Congress. Congressional Republicans decided long ago that their salvation was in destroying President Obama. They understood very well that if Obama failed, Republicans would prosper. After All, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell actually said years ago that his “top political priority” was to defeat Obama.
Many have righteously condemned these words, but I sincerely feel as though it’s nothing personal, just business (personal was Rep. Joe Wilson rudely interrupting another Obama address to a joint session of Congress in 2009). Because McConnell and his party believe that Obama’s success is their failure and vice versa, asking them to do something major without brinkmanship to gain an advantage is too much to them like political suicide.
Even if this weren’t the case, there’s a matter of negotiating strength. You can’t even begin negotiations unless you are in a position of strength. And with his ratings really low, Republicans have very little incentive to do much business with him.
How does this relate to Obama’s address? All the ideas Obama advanced can’t become law. In all likelihood this was red meat for the Democratic base. Which means that his address may have been mostly about midterm elections.
To be fair, Obama did briefly address the fact that the Republicans insist on being intransigent. He said that he will use executive powers whenever he can to boost the economy. What he didn’t say is that his executive powers are weak in this area. Not that you would have known this from listening to him.
Did he have to beat around the bush? Unfortunately, yes. The American people hate pessimism, so Obama had to be optimistic, to say that there’s reason to expect tremendous productivity when he knows that there’s not.
Ergo, an unfortunate truth about SOTU addresses is revealed: they’re not particularly honest.