“The President shall from time to time give Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Article II, Sec. 3, of the United States Constitution
This evening, as directed by our founding fathers, the president will address congress as to the state of our union. It will be President Obama’s sixth opportunity to formally make his case to the American people and their elected representatives. The question is will anybody be listening. For tonight the circumstances will be far different than they were one year ago.
In January of 2013 the president bounded to the podium buoyed by a resounding re-election victory and a 52% approval rating. He saw his victory as an affirmation of his policies and he put forth a progressive second term agenda that sent shivers down the spine of his opponents. “Elections matter” he said as he challenged congress to take action on 41 separate issues. His supporters were ecstatic. Candidate Obama of 2008 had returned.
Tonight President Obama will address the nation from a much weakened position. His approval rating stands at 43%, the lowest during his time in office, a nine point drop from a year ago. Two thirds of the populace feels that the country is on the wrong track. Most damning of all…he is no longer trusted by half of the nation. His only solace comes from the knowledge that the approval rating of those sitting in the chamber tonight stands at an abysmal 13%.
The president is coming off of his worst year in office. Of the 41 action items he put before congress in last year’s SOTU, only two passed…the extension of the Violence against Women Act and the raising of the debt ceiling. Immigration reform, tax reform, climate change, background checks on gun purchases…all swept aside by a tidal wave of partisan bickering and Washington dysfunction.
Rightly or wrongly this systemic case of Washington gridlock falls squarely on the president’s shoulders; for he is the President of the United States and people expect him to find a way to get things done.
So what can this weakened president do to break the gridlock and move the country forward? The word from the White House is that the president will challenge congress once again to act on a number of issues…immigration, climate change and raising the minimum wage. But this time he will promise to use his executive powers whenever possible if they fail to do so.
We’ll see. Speechmaking has always been this president’s strong suit…following up his weakness.
Tonight’s speech will be important in that it will set the tone for the upcoming election year. Far more important will be the president’s actions in the days and weeks to come. Will his actions speak louder than his words?
We see better than we hear.