Next Tuesday a lot of media attention will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address. It need not be.
As a general matter, State of the Union addresses poll very well immediately after they are given but have no lasting effect. I expect this speech will be no different.
The problem facing Mr. Obama right now is diminishing support in how Americans view his competence and character. For example, a new Quinnipiac survey found that a majority of Americans view President Obama’s White House as incompetent (53 percent v. 42 percent) while a plurality (49 percent) believe he isn’t honest and trustworthy. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) consider the economy to be “not so good” or “poor.” And only 36 percent approve of his handling of health care; 59 percent disapprove. A State of the Union speech is powerless to shift these perceptions in any meaningful way.
Moreover, the president conceded to the New Yorker’s David Remnick that he’s overexposed. People are tuning Mr. Obama out. His words have been dramatically devalued; he’s seen as a person who talks a lot but just isn’t up to the job. He is Jimmy Carter without Camp David.
The State of the Union address is a political ritual. The speech–which is almost always too long, undisciplined, and unmemorable–commands more attention than it deserves. Mr. Obama and his party will be in as bad a shape after it’s been delivered as they were before.