Dan Gilmore / January 11, 2016

Ahead of SOTU Address, Obama Plays Game of Chairs

It’s less about the Constitution than political theater.

In his final State of the Union Address Tuesday night, Barack Obama will continue his tradition of echewing directives found in the Constitution in favor of using the address as a platform for his agenda. He claims Congress is deadlocked, but it’s his inability to work with anyone lacking his political stripes that has caused political gridlock. Obama’s Communications Director Jennifer Psaki said, “Last year, he spoke to Congress. This year, he’ll be speaking more to the American public.” So while the Constitution charges the president to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” [emphasis our own], Obama will play a political game, trying to shape the presidential race for his successor, defend his action against the Islamic State and the economy, and play up the pomp and circumstance.

As a silent symbol of his agenda, the first lady will be sitting next to an empty chair to symbolize the people killed by guns in America. In doing so, the Obamas are signaling that those deaths — caused by accident, violence and suicide — are more valuable than other deaths. Hey, gun accidents matter, politically speaking. The Obama administration may take more executive action against the Second Amendment in the future. As further indications of their priorities, the Obamas also invited a Syrian refugee, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy because he raised his state’s minimum wage, and Major Lisa Jaster because she was one of the first women to graduate from Ranger School. But unless Obama works with Congress’s conservative leadership, his last year in office will be like the seat in the gallery — empty.

> Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Mark Alexander’s annual rebuttal to the State of the Union on Wednesday.

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