Al Jazeera Blogs


Americas

State of the Union speech: rinse and repeat

Obama will make all the right noises in this annual address, but the whole show has become predictably formulaic.
Last modified: 28 Jan 2014 08:29

The awesome power of the United States presidency has now boiled down to a writing instrument and a landline.

That is what you are going to hear often repeated as Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union message on Tuesday.

It is the White House catchphrase for this speech - the president has "a pen and a phone" and he's not afraid to use them. A message that I'm sure his aides believe will inspire fear in the Congress and the globe.

The president may get to fly in one of the coolest planes around, drive in a limo/ tank and carry the nuclear codes, but executive orders and public pressure now define the extent of his political power domestically.

I've just re-read his last five major addresses to Congress and I feel like I could write this year's version. His speeches have all been remarkably similar in what he calls for and how he does it. If history is a guide, he will use emotional language to describe the US and the people outside of Washington in the most patriotic terms.

He will describe the people who don't give up, don't quit, but want Washington to work better. He will call for a growing middle class, better education, money for infrastructure and research and he probably can't drop the habit of calling for higher taxes on companies that ship jobs overseas.

These are the constant themes of his speeches. There is another constant - almost none of it gets past Congress.

The media will count the number of times Democrats stand up, the number of times Republicans don't clap. 

They will count the minutes of his speech, and the number of times he uses a certain word and then they will start talking about how it could affect the next election. That is a prediction I can make with great confidence. That is the new reality of the yearly ritual that is called the State of the Union speech.

The focus will be on the politics not the policy. That could be because it's just easier to speculate on the ups and downs of the next election. Another reason could be the growing sense that nothing is going to change and that this divided government will not work together to get anything done, so why even talk about it?

Tens of millions of Americans are still struggling from the impact of the last recession, the planet is warming, American children are consistently falling behind in education standards and people are losing faith in the government and their leaders.

The president will have a captive audience on Tuesday, for everyone that doesn't have cable that is. The millions who tune in to see those fancy network graphics and well-coifed pundits will also hear the president reassure them: it's been worse, it can get better and, at the very least, he has a pen and a phone.