State of the Union messages are rarely memorable. President Barack Obama’s latest one was noteworthy only in its disregard of the political realities of the day, coming off more as a campaign speech than a serious policy initiative. Worse, despite his nice-sounding words about cooperation, Obama couldn’t hide his disdain for Congress.
Not even a nod came acknowledging the huge election results in November rejecting his policies. Obama himself last year more than once had declared that though he wasn’t on the ballot, his agenda was. The only electoral note came when a small number of Republicans showed themselves discourteous and disrespectful as they applauded when Obama said he would not be on a ballot again; Obama testily responded that he had won two elections. Not a pretty picture, and certainly not one that offered up a lot of hope for bipartisan cooperation.
Obama talked about the fierce partisanship in Washington during his presidency and made a reference to his 2008 campaign pledge to get beyond the “cynicism” dividing the capital city.
Action speaks louder than words. Right from the start of his time in the White House, Obama snubbed bipartisanship, as when he rejected Republican ideas for the 2009 economic stimulus package by telling 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain, “I won.”
In the run-up to Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, Obama didn’t meet with Republican leaders to try to figure out an agenda that could garner broad support in Congress. No, he went around the country making speeches to friendly audiences.
Did he follow up his State of the Union address with talks with Republicans to find common ground? No, Obama said, “I’ll crisscross the country” making more grandstanding speeches for proposals like tax increases, new spending and “free” community college education that are dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.
Obama doesn’t treat Democrats much better. For years it’s been widely reported that he has no close relationships with congressional Democrats. He did meet with the party’s senators recently, but insulted a number of them by suggesting their support for a bipartisan Iranian sanctions bill was simply a case of them kowtowing to donors.
Obama basked in new surveys showing greater voter satisfaction with the economy and higher approval ratings for him. But that rise in polling sentiment tracks the precipitous drop in gas prices, which came not from his policies, but in spite of his hostility to fossil fuels. He doubled down on that aversion to oil by mocking congressional efforts supporting construction of the Keystone pipeline to bring Canadian oil to U.S. refineries, which would create, by his administration’s estimate, 42,000 jobs.
Obama touted job gains reducing the unemployment rate but ignored the brutal reality that the country’s employment participation rate is the lowest since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Another fact Obama didn’t mention was that the median household wage fell during his presidency. He would blame the recession, but worker pay hasn’t rebounded as quickly as in previous recoveries. Not a pretty picture for the state of the union.
Then again, Obama’s speech wasn’t about the nation. It was about him and his legacy, a long, boring political broadside to try to portray himself as a populist protector of the middle class during his last two years in office. Middle class families can only look on with envy at how well the wealthy have done in the Obama recovery. But for them, the state of the union still ain’t so great.