[Ed. – Maybe the problem isn’t the speech but the giver.]
President Barack Obama acquitted himself with the requisite dignity on Tuesday night, speaking in mostly upbeat — if none too ambitious — terms, despite the divisions that bedevil him. But his assessment that “this can be a breakthrough year for America” belied the reality he faces: partisan stalemate on all the biggest issues. Most of the time, one half his audience applauded or stood up, while the other sat on its hands, as usual.
So the power of the State the Union — however much it’s hyped — feels overblown. Maybe it’s time to rethink the whole drill.
The message has a venerable pedigree, of course. James Monroe’s eponymous doctrine of hemispheric hegemony; FDR’s “four freedoms”; LBJ’s “war on poverty”; George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” — all were first articulated in a State of the Union missive. (So was Bill Clinton’s erroneous prediction that “the era of Big Government is over.”)
But the anodyne English the Obama White House used in the usual frenzied run-up to Tuesday night’s speech seemed to have reached a new level of emptiness, owing more to Procter & Gamble than to Jefferson and Madison. “A year of action.” “Pen and phone.” “Opportunity for All.” “Rewarding Hard Work.” Such phrases evoke advertisements for “new and improved” products no one needs, not meaningful articulation of policy or political belief.