There was a time that the State of the Union message delivered by the President was a substantively dramatic moment on the annual Washington calendar. Presidents would follow up on the constitutional mandate in Article II, Section 3, that the President should “…give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While originally handled in writing, presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, appeared at least on one occasion during their term in office to present their report before a joint session of Congress. Since Calvin Coolidge the address was heard on the radio and since Lyndon Johnson on prime time television.
This presidential opportunity to present to Congress and now to the nation his agenda for the forthcoming year has now become a three-ring circus filled with pomp and circumstance and little substantive surprises. It is likely that tonight's speech will be totally anti-climactic after all the leaks, speculations, drafts, and commentary that are already spinning in the media, prior to the actual speech. Among political junkies or even casual followers, there are few disclosures likely to emerge on Tuesday night.
It is not at all clear why the White House decided to play the speech this way–to totally undercut its importance and newsworthiness–unless it was to pre-empt all possible Republican responses and to control Wednesday and Thursday’s media spin. The President is already guaranteed low expectations for the speech; meanwhile, the Republican response can be better prepared. They too, not surprisingly, also have grabbed the bait and are previewing their response—actually responses—based at least in part the public information.
The President does have an agenda and a program to recite or to repeat, but the truth is he is clearly beginning to feel the reality of his “lame duck phase” rapidly approaching. President Obama never gave the impression that he truly to enjoyed his job, but he now appears to have reached the point where he almost wishes he were out the door.
Baring a miraculous turn of events in the November congressional elections or a dramatic turnaround in GOP strategy, the domestic program for the next three years is likely to be wrapped up in vituperative, partisan attacks with only minimal legislative accomplishments. This is sadly the case despite the fact that the public repeatedly has indicated it wants an improved economy, an increase in the minimum wage, immigration reform, a fairer tax system, and for Government to provide greater opportunities for the overwhelming two-thirds of the country; both Republicans as well as Democrats.