By Andrew Craft
President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday and laid out many agenda items for the upcoming year. But one key word kept creeping into the 56 minute long speech: inequality. The pervasive use of the word set a strong theme throughout as the President outlined reforms to close the gap between the rich and the poor. He focused on jobs and employment for a lengthy part of the address, emphasizing the crucial necessity of extending unemployment insurance in 2014 (something he himself could have overrode Congress on). But what was so markedly characteristic of the speech was the President’s emphasis on unilateral action that he will be taking this year. As if President Obama hadn’t already used more executive orders than any president before him, why should we be so shocked? He says, “America does not stand still and neither will I.” Sounds like the same self-aggrandizing language we’ve heard before. Bypassing Congress on instrumental reforms will surely maintain the divisive nature between Congress and the President. In addition, President Obama mentioned almost every hot button issue at the moment from renewable energy to immigration, from emphatically denouncing climate change deniers to vocally decrying wage disparity among females. He hit all his bases, in that respect.
The tone of the speech, however, seemed nebulous and disparate. President Obama at one point seemed to be out of breath from all the shout outs and recognitions he was giving to living examples of failed reforms and/or successful policy changes. Did he sound desperate for approval or merely raucous and lively to begin a new year? The jury is out. Cracking jokes about the healthcare website was just an example of a both very awkward comedic relief and weird political hilarity.
I enjoy watching the State of the Union to feel the pomp and circumstance of every branch of our government in the same room and seeing all the famous officials. There’s an eloquence and tradition about it that is indisputable. However, the content of the speech was nothing the American people hadn’t heard before. I won’t call it fluff, because it was constructive and hefty, but it was nothing nuanced or novice that was new. However, Politico Playbook put it best. “Things are actually starting to work. We have a budget, we have a farm bill, and there won’t be a white-knuckle debt-limit staredown. Both sides are at least flirting with immigration compromise. Both Obama and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave upbeat speeches in hopes of keeping this hint of momentum going. This is no grand bargain. But it’s no longer grand dysfunction.” For that, I am somewhat optimistic and I hope every American watched the President’s address. In a sense, I find it to be a quasi-duty as a participating citizen. Know what’s going on around you because politics affects you in many ways, whether you like it or not.