President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union speech Tuesday night with an upbeat tone and a cordial can-do attitude about his vision for a “year of action.” But the underlying tenor belied an acknowledgement that to suggest any grand legislative agenda was futile.
Gone were the stirring aspirations of last year’s address that Congress unceremoniously consigned to the trash can. Missing were any big policy ideas. In their place, Americans got a realistic list of tangible objectives the president could achieve on his own.
This year’s State of the Union speech was just a cry in the political wilderness about where our economy is going and how far beyond the president’s reach are the forces that lead to concentration of wealth, the erosion of the American middle class and the crushing weight of poverty for the part-time working poor.
It was an admission that any action requiring congressional cooperation — even those with broad public support — has no hope of success, at least not until after next fall’s midterm elections.
Instead of pursuing his lofty dreams for America, the president seemed resigned to working around Congress and doing what he can by executive order to help the working poor and to fight workplace discrimination against women.
Obama’s plan to issue an executive order to pay military contractors at least $10.10 an hour – above the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 – got rousing applause from members of his Democratic Party. In reality, he will be affecting the lives of only a few hundred thousand workers.
“Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board,” he said.
As he did on other issues, Obama invited Congress to join him by increasing the federal minimum wage. He spoke as if their help were optional.
House Republicans probably won’t take up the president’s offer on the minimum wage, but there’s still hope some of the moderates will vote with Democrats to pass other important legislation. Meaningful immigration reform could be among those, if only because the voting power of Latino immigrants is growing.
At times during the speech Obama seemed confident and optimistic. He noted the positive economic trends and the declining budget deficits. He boasted that our troops were coming home this year from America’s longest war.
For the most part, the State of the Union gave Americans a reason to feel good and have hope. Just don’t expect too much of anything from Congress.