State of the Union: Mercifully Unmemorable, as was the Inadequate Republican Response
–Richard E. Vatz
We are in a country and time wherein communication has proliferated beyond what anyone would have anticipated 20 years ago, much less over 200 years ago. To imagine that we need the president to, as the Constitution provides, “…from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union (SOTU), and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” is simply incorrect. The SOTU is unnecessary except as political posturing and provides no necessary public or foreign policy information.
Moreover, the Republican response, not of course provided by the Constitution, is theoretically politically useful to offer a counterbalance to the President’s depiction of the state of the country and his list of proposals.
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Neither will or should be long remembered.
Some will say that the tone is important, but the tone is evanescent. In a short time you will hear that the tone of the presidency is changing yet again.
Substantively, both the SOTU’s specifics and tone were communicated via news reports well ahead of the speech: President Barack Obama wants to enact an agenda that he has failed to enact thus far: minimum wage reform, continued support for the chronically unemployed, immigration reform, health reform, etc. He was not ugly in tone. Executive actions, again well-publicized before the speech, will be coming in the form of deferring deportments of illegal immigrants and raising the minimum wage pertaining to federal contracts. Promoting universal pre-K education should help in an America wherein two-parent families are becoming the new minority, but, of course, that very significant problem is not even mentioned in the SOTU.
President Obama’s declaiming on the Affordable Care Act, of course, virtually ignored all of the serious issues of costs, implementation, presidential misstatements regarding keeping one’s health care and doctor, but it celebrated its selective and rare successes.
His was optimistic, as are all presidents’ SOTUs, including the Gerald Ford SOTU which did not claim that the post-Richard M. Nixon country was strong, but indicated the country was coming back. Intractable problems and broken promises respecting foreign policy respecting Iran and Syria and the possible horrible consequences of unleashing dangerous terrorists (redundant, of course) from Guantanamo were not even alluded to.
The Republican response to the President’s SOTU by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State was, to be charitable, not much of a rebuttal. It was a brief ode to America and self-reliance. Good, but the Republicans need to substantively use the occasion to point out that the Obama Emperor has no clothes and specifically remind the public of the economic, healthcare and foreign policy failures of this administration. Immigration and healthcare were touched on, but if you wanted a point-by-point or even overall position statement, you’ll have to go back to Marco Rubio last year, after he had a drink of water.
Not a helpful night for anyone. Let’s send the State of the Union message electronically next time.
Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University.