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.