January 20, 2015

America Brimming With Anticipation for Another Obama Speech

He’s already previewed it all, so why watch?

The State of the Union Address tonight is part of a long presidential tradition, but to call Barack Obama’s speech highly anticipated is a stretch. The administration has spent much time since New Year’s jetting the president around to various campaign stops to preview his address. Sure, there might be a surprise announcement, but after six years of Obama’s SOTU speeches there is already a strong sense of what the president will say.

He will propose tax hikes. Every single Obama SOTU address has included calls for tax hikes on the “wealthy,” corporations, banks or all of the above. This time around, it will be a sharp increase in capital gains and dividend taxes, which economists routinely warn are the worst kinds of tax hikes if you want to grow the economy.

Then there will come the giveaways. This year it’s “free” community college, which will supposedly be paid for with the aforementioned tax increases. He also wants to use tax hikes on the “wealthy” to pay for tax breaks for the middle class, including a new $500 credit for households with two incomes. Too bad for you, stay-at-home moms and dads.

The president will also spend some time talking about himself, as he always does, and how he won’t allow the Republican Congress to stand in the way of his agenda. Despite the electorate’s clear rejection of his policies, the president will offer nothing but more Obama.

He will claim the state of the union is strong and rattle off a series of economic statistics about low unemployment, low oil prices, high investment and a strong stock market. He will not, however, mention the historically low labor participation rate, the still-shaky housing market or the flight of investment capital. And he is also unlikely to spend much time talking about his failed foreign policy record, though what he does mention will be chest-thumping spin.

The pomp and circumstance associated with the SOTU since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has long given way to sheer political theater in an age of over-stimulated and dangerously cynical citizens. For many of the first hundred-plus years of this country, the SOTU was little more than a letter the president sent to Congress, meeting an obligation laid out in Article II of the Constitution to update the legislative branch “from time to time” on the state of the union. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson decided to give his report in the form of a speech that we came to expect the president to make an annual trek down Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the SOTU has suffered steadily declining viewership since Bill Clinton’s presidency. With few exceptions – George W. Bush’s 2002 SOTU and Obama’s first address in 2009 – the event seems to draw little excitement from the country at large.

Obama is unlikely to change the SOTU’s viewing trends this year or next. His own aides admit there is little political value to it, which means that they’re going to put forth the minimum effort. Obama has pretty much already announced what he’s going to talk about, and, by pre-announcing vetoes to the Republican agenda for 2015, there almost doesn’t seem any need to give a SOTU address at all. If it weren’t for the fact that Obama loves few things more than the sound of his own voice, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he just sent Congress a sternly worded letter.

So, if you, like the vast majority of your countrymen, decide to skip the speech in favor of important things like rewinding your CD collection, Mark Alexander will persevere through the speech and offer his annual rebuttal tomorrow. After all, the speech still lays out the president’s agenda. Stay tuned.

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