The delivery of the annual State of the Union Address by the president is a high moment of state. But they have seldom been memorable, at least for the speech. Like most inaugural addresses, the next day they are used to wrap fish and forgotten. Indeed, in all my years of listening to them, I can only remember two lines. In 1975, Gerald Ford’s first big line was, “The state of the Union is not good.” It was only the truth, but it was remarkably refreshing to hear it actually spoken. The second was 21 years later, when President Bill Clinton, having taken a shellacking in the mid-term elections that saw both houses of Congress in Republican hands for the first time since 1954, and a re-election to win, declared that “The era of big government is over.”
Bill Clinton, of course, has never suffered from an excess of ideology. I think he would come out in favor of a constitutional amendment against mom and apple pie if he thought it was a political winner. The same cannot be said for the president who will deliver the State of the Union Address tomorrow night. At his second inaugural speech two weeks ago, Obama delivered a sharply partisan, hard-left speech that said, only a little bit more indirectly, what the White House communications director said the next day, “There’s a moment of opportunity now that’s important. What’s frustrating is that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”
Having devoted most of the inauguration speech to such tried-and-true liberal causes as gay rights and climate change—and gotten a fair amount of blow back even from usually reliably liberal media for its partisanship—the conventional wisdom among the chattering classes is that he will now pivot to jobs and the economy. But as Byron York points out, that’s what he is always about to do, he just never does it.
George Bush devoted much of the first year of his second term to trying to reform Social Security. He got nowhere, of course, because the Democrats shamelessly demagogued the issue rather than engaged it. At least he tried to reach across the aisle in hopes of doing what needed to be done for the sake of the Union. After Obama’s inaugural address, it seems unlikely that he will even try to reach across the aisle. As Michael Barone explains:
Obama may be actually sincere in believing that every decent person with common sense would share his views. After all, just about everybody in the places he has chosen to live—Manhattan, Cambridge, the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago—does. Far from being an instinctive compromiser with respect for those with different views, he seems to be an angry non-compromiser with no idea how decent people could disagree with him.
Meanwhile, Ira Stroll has come up with an excellent suggested speech for Senator Marco Rubio, who will be giving the Republican rebuttal that is chockablock with attempts to reach across the aisle.