The population of the U.S. Is about 315 million; 33.3 million tuned into watch Obama last week. That’s roughly 11 percent of these star-spangled-awesome, united states. Happy to report, our staff of 10 did a bit better with 50 percent viewership. The least watched State of the Union address since Bill Clinton’s in 2000, is very telling of the country’s threshold for politics right now. In fact, it was a challenge convincing everyone to get on board to write this editorial, due to the diminishing currency and questionable relevance of the SOTU.
On the subject of the speech, one editor remarked, “the SOTU is just another opportunity for the president to reassure us of things that most likely won’t happen.” Another said, “Obama can talk all he wants but I really only tend to pay attention to him when it comes to his NCAA bracket… I definitely don’t dislike him, I just feel like the only thing we have in common is sports.” Is this tradition just some crusty political grandstanding or does it still hold any real value to the American voters?
The address was, as we’ve come to expect, incredibly well-delivered. Chuck Todd of NBC news said it perfectly on Twitter: “the speech was political, but it wasn’t partisan.” It was eloquent, but not aggressive or offensive. It was actually quite passive, despite Obama’s declaration that he would act on certain issues “with or without congress.”
Given previous experience, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think the president would be using executive orders to enact things that might have trouble passing in congress. Being forced to navigate a congress as ineffective as the current one is preferable to the further concentration of power in the hands of the less-representative executive branch.
After the embarrassing 16-day shutdown of the government at the end of last year some of the disadvantages of having a two party system were more apparent than ever. Some of us were eager to see how President Obama would address this particular topic. Hopeful that he would plead for harmony and not throw more coal into the fire that is the toddler-esque battle between our two chambers, it was good to see the issue almost immediately addressed, and fairly criticized: “When our differences shut down the government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, then we are not doing right by the American people.”
The president hit several points during his hour-long discourse, including foreign policy, education, the creation of natural-gas fuel stations (you heard it here first: “The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.”); he called for 2014 to be a year of action. Remarking on the gender wage gap garnered some laughter from the crowd when he stated, “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.” A standout topic of interest for our office across the board was the vaguely mentioned framework for battleground minimum wage – for both agreeable and disagreeable reasons – and the impact it may have on the future of students and children. A lot of obtuse language around the issue prevented any solid resolution to our debate.
Enter a hallmark of politics: closing with the honoring of injured Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg. The emotional wrap up brought the otherwise stoic Joint Chiefs of Staff to a rousing state of applause for the first and only time during the oration. Some media outlets pushed that this was a blatant display of forcefully putting on airs. It’s important to point out though, this isn’t specific to Obama, rather every political campaign ever.
The speech was nice, in the way that people use the word “nice” when they don’t have anything else to say. The strategic lack of personality was clearly trying to appease and not anger moderate and conservative voters as democrats head into a tough re-election battle this year. Though in trying to appease many, the speech came off as just… meh. It wasn’t memorable. The news cycle quickly pivoted to other stories by next day, including the Atlanta snow traffic disaster, Justin Bieber, Ukraine and Sochi, while Americans moved on more quickly post speech than ever before.
We agree in the office, the Joe Biden grinning/pointing GIF is probably the best thing to come out of the broadcast. Maybe our hypermodern culture is partly to blame, but the desperate sound of attempted re-acceptance was far too loud a noise over which we couldn’t retain much of any policy promises.