President Obama devoted most of his State of the Union address to a laundry list of initiatives – and no answer for how to pay for them. Instead, he should foster bipartisan cooperation, working with Congress to build trust, bridge divides, and usher in needed reform.
To many, the state of America’s union is fractious. Distrust, disdain, and suspicion permeate American politics. Divisions within and between the two major parties have stymied the legislative process.
Last night in his State of the Union address, President Obama had the opportunity to rise above the partisan bickering and distrust and set a positive tone for his final term. What could have been a triumph of statesmanship was instead an all-too-common display of politics as usual.
Traditionally, presidents hope to accomplish three goals in a State of the Union address. They assess the current situation facing the country, present a political agenda for the coming year, and reaffirm underlying values. In sum, the speech should artfully connect the past, present, and future and solidify the president’s role as a political leader.
Last night, Mr. Obama failed to meet these goals. In the midst of an ongoing budget crisis, he devoted most of his speech to announcements of expensive new proposals. More than 8 million Americans remain unemployed, but instead of casting a vision of a clear set of actionable priorities for the coming legislative year, he offered a laundry list of initiatives – and no answer for how to pay for them.
After promising to “lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework,” the president then restated the point: “Let me repeat, nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” Such assurances are welcome in these challenging fiscal times, but the promise appears hollow.