There was a time when the SOTU was a just a letter sent to Congress, but in the era of radio and television, Presidents took advantage of the opportunity to be seen and heard laying out their priorities and asking Congress to fulfill them. Since then they have become little more than laundry lists and rarely memorable.
More people will watch a sporting event than tuned in to listen to Obama. In five years he has probably given more speeches than several previous Presidents combined. His first term felt like an extension of his election campaign with one speech following another and soon enough his reliance on a Tele-Prompter became a joke.
Suffice to say that Obama has given one speech too many. Or is that one hundred speeches too many?
A second term, according to the political pundits, is usually a more subdued time as a President seeks to get a few “legacy” pieces of legislation passed and, by then, most people have taken their measure of the President, either liking or disliking him. A President’s popularity or approval ratings usually decline.
Obama’s refusal and failure to work with Congress, combined with the disaster of Obamacare that was passed with only Democratic Party votes and, even then, required Chicago-style bribery and pressure, has seen not just his approval begin to slip away, but it includes the whole of Congress.
Obama’s assertion that he will use executive orders to get his way is simply an admission that he has failed to work with Congress and intends to continue as his second term shapes up to be one of increased resistance. Earlier presidents faced with a Congress whose power was held by another party used persuasion and compromise, but Obama uses neither.
In late January a Gallup poll revealed that “The enduring unpopularity of Congress appears to have seeped into the nation’s 435 congressional districts, as a record-low percentage of registered voters, 46%, now say that the U.S. representative in their own congressional district deserves re-election. Equally historic, the share of voters saying most members of Congress deserve re-election has fallen to 17%, a new nadir.”
It’s worth noting that the 17% who say most of Congress deserves re-election is well below the roughly 40% that has been around for decades and Gallup says “Typically, results like these have presaged significant turnover in Congress, as in 1994, 2006, and 2010. So Congress could be headed for a major shake-up in its membership this fall.”
There’s a history lesson in the 1994 election which occurred when Bill Clinton was President. It marked the greatest victory of the Republican Party since 1980. The GOP picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 8 seats in the Senate. The issue that drove this change was Clinton’s advocacy of a change in the nation’s healthcare system. The Democrats did not learn anything from that defeat and Obama doubled-down on it.
While the media naturally focuses on the President, many Americans appear to have made a shift to Republicans because, at present, there are 30 Republican governors in America. Since Obama took office, Republicans have picked up a net nine governorships. In 24 of those States, Republicans control the legislatures. Democrats have similar power in just 12 States. So, at the State level, voters have already demonstrated their preferences.
A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll published on January 28, the day of the SOTU speech, revealed a nation “increasingly worried about (Obama’s) abilities, dissatisfied with the economy, and fearful for the country’s future.”
“Large majorities of respondents said they want the White House and lawmakers to focus on job creation and early-childhood education, and a slimmer majority favored increasing the minimum wage.” Just over half expressed an interest in “reducing income inequality.” Obama is appealing to the “low-information” voters these days, but the majority understands that only a growing economy can address the need for more jobs.
“The survey found that just over half of Americans disapprove of the President’s performance, with 43% approving, a trough that remains little changed since the early summer. Nearly six in 10 say they are uncertain, worried or pessimistic about what he will do with the remainder of his presidency. Disapproval for Congress, too, is near its all-time high.”
The midterm elections in November are likely to change Congress by adding many more Republicans in the House and enough in the Senate to give the GOP control of Congress. That will eliminate the chokehold that Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, has exercised to kill more than a hundred and fifty pieces of legislation sent by the House to repair the nation’s stagnant economy. It will likely override the President’s veto power.
Obama’s SOTU will receive a cascade of political analysis, but if the polls are any indication, the public is far less interested in another Obama speech than they are in getting the kind of change the nation really needs to grow its economy and address its problems.
© Alan Caruba, 2014