A break with tradition is in order when it comes to President Obama’s State of the Union Address this year. Not only is the Obama administration giving everyone a little preview of the address — now just days away — but he’s also making a more narrow, multifaceted focus on states affected by his upcoming policy goals. In particular the administration is focusing on three states: Michigan, Arizona, and Tennessee. It also focuses on three policy ideas for growing the economy: the auto industry, the housing market, and education. But what is perhaps most interesting is the tone of the press release. It can really only be described as non-nonchalant. However, if one unpacks some of the rhetoric therein, one of the president’s greatest political weaknesses is at the center.
“This year, we figured there’s no time like the present. (For those who closely follow the President’s executive actions, there is a ‘we can’t wait’ joke in there somewhere.),” wrote the White House’s Dan Pfeiffer, referencing an old “We Can’t Wait” video, as in “we can’t wait for Congress.” But by bringing up gridlock with Congress and the highly controversial and investigative executive action in one sentence, and then say he’s eager to work with Congress is another is both repetitive and insincere.
“Some of [President Obama’s] announcements will be executive actions, and others will be legislative proposals,” reads the release, adding that “despite what you might hear from the Beltway pundits, this President looks forward to working with the new Republican Congress on ways we can move America forward.” It’s not that the president shouldn’t take the steps his administration feels are appropriate or needed, and Congress should be able to pass much needed legislation and work with Democrats even if the president does something to anger them. But given the fact past executive action is such a divisive topic, sandwiching mentions of it between faux-eagerness and hints that the last two years of the presidency — in which the president has no concerns about re-election — will be active ones, seems like its asking for a fight. “My presidency is entering the fourth quarter. Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter,” said Obama, and Pfeiffer notes that “in the eight years I have worked for President Obama, I have never seen him more fired up about the road ahead.”
Considering the work thus far seen with Congress, it seems unlikely that he’s fired up about bipartisan efforts. The “SOTU Spoilers” may just be a preview into just how forced the smile on John Boehner’s face will be this year. There’s a reason Obama has a reputation for being standoffish and chilly, and for not “playing the game” when it comes to political maneuvering with Republicans and other branches of government.
Obama himself argues that “With respect to this ‘truism’ about me not socializing enough and patting folks on the back and all that stuff, most people who know me know I’m a pretty friendly guy. And I like a good party.” He also argues that the gridlock as it is today couldn’t be fixed by a picnic or a back pat. “I think that really what’s gone on in terms of some of the paralysis here in Washington or difficulties in negotiations just have to do with some very stark differences in terms of policy,” he said according to The Telegraph, adding, “That will be true whether I’m the life of the party or a stick in the mud.”
True as that may be, Obama’s claim that he wants badly to work with Congress is belied by the fact that sometimes he’s not the life of the party but a stick in the mud; sometimes his press releases have the feel of a certain part of the rear anatomy pressed against the House Chamber windows.
Of course, Republicans are hardly more reserved — in fact they’re arguably less reserved — in the things that come out of their mouths and press offices. It takes very little digging to find aggressive, divisive, hyperbolic, and inflammatory comments meant to attack Democrats or the president. Some would argue the lawsuit currently in the works — targeting aspects of the Affordable Care Act — is a good example of looking for a fight and not minding the headline either.
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