Just two months ago, President Obama and the Democrats suffered a sixth-year shellacking, with Republicans picking up large numbers in both congressional chambers.
Imagine the surprise, then, on both sides of the political aisle when a freed president came into his penultimate State of the Union address and pronounced what may have been the most liberal statement of values of his presidency.
The president began his address with a strong start, selling the good news of the economy and using the beginning to reframe the sense that the economy has rebounded and Americans should feel economically secure.
With the hope of “turning the page” and the American psyche when it comes to economic confidence, the president declared that the “shadow of the crisis has passed.” Democrats who lost last November were probably lamenting “where was this page-turner when we needed it in the mid-terms?”
But it wasn’t just reinforcing the economic confidence that seems to have been lacking in the face of declining unemployment, dropping gas prices, and a surging Dow Jones; it seemed that the president was reinforcing his own confidence in the final homestretch of his tenure.
And with the recent uptick in his poll numbers, President Obama clearly wanted to reclaim the mantel of political agenda-setter going into a narrow window of policy-making opportunities.
Typically State of the Union addresses are a wish list of presidential programs and threats, and there were both at times, but there was also a sense of the president unleashed in his own comfort and not having to worry about the future, for himself at least.
When a smattering of applause came from the GOP side of the House chamber to his declaration that he had run his last campaign, Obama snipped, “I know, because I won both of them.” Not prone to putting up with caustic Republican interruptions like South Carolina’s Joe “You lie” Wilson, the chief executive seemed free to mock and antagonize the opposition party that controls the legislative branch.
By the end of the speech, Obama seemed to slip into his idealistic tendencies of grandiose visions, and was running on the emptiness of “better politics” that seemed more targeted to his electoral base than addressing practical policies. At the same time, there was no real sense of what to do on a host of issues, ranging from immigration, race relations, and voting rights, all mentioned in passing, with no sense of what to do about any of them.
In the end, there wasn’t really a call for any bi-partisanship in any true sense. Instead, he focused on partisan platitudes that will only reinforce each side into their respective corners.
In other words: Cue 2016 and the post-Obama campaign.