In State Of The Union, Obama Fails To Rise To The Challenge Of The Moment

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

President Obama took the stage tonight for his annual State of the Union address on shaky ground.

According to a new WSJ/NBC poll, only 43% of Americans approve of the job he’s doing – a figure that has changed little since the summer. Almost 60% say that they are uncertain, worried or pessimistic about what Obama will do in the last three years of his presidency. And 63% of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track.

Indeed, since the rise of modern polling in the 1930s, only George W. Bush began his sixth year in the White House facing such cynicism, distrust and disapproval.

Up against the wall, Obama did not rise to the challenge.

His speech was filled with rhetoric – much of the same that we have heard over the last year. It felt like a litany of rehashed promises. No more, no less.

To be sure, he began with precisely the right message: “Let’s work together to create new jobs, not crises.” But the President’s attempt at bipartisanship – he mentioned “working together” multiple times – didn’t resonate at all. Not with me and I dare say not with the American public.

President Obama was surely making an attempt to connect with the millions of Americans who rate his job performance poorly and who think the country is on the wrong track, but by offering a laundry list of proposals he fell far short of what he hoped to accomplish.

Immigration, climate change and education were all featured, but none truly given their due.

Tonight’s speech paled in comparison to what we heard from Illinois Senator Barack Obama in 2004 at the DNC. His passionate defense of a United States of America instead of a red or blue America is long gone. Instead, we have a president who is only gesturing to his Republican colleagues rather than reaching across the aisle in a meaningful way to create the United States of America he so beautifully described a decade ago.

President Obama did well to exploit the gender gap. His support of women’s initiatives has been stellar and he has shown dedication to working in a bipartisan manner on those issues.

But that’s essentially where it stops.

His ideas on the economy, how to create jobs, close tax loopholes and support small businesses are those the Democrats have been pushing hard this past year. And although President Obama promised concrete proposals, we actually heard very little of the details.

I agree with the President that income inequality is the largest challenge we face as a nation, but Obama offered no answer to why there are 14 million more Americans on food stamps today then there were five years ago.

The President signaled to Americans tonight that he knows Obamacare is a deeply troubled policy. Indeed, he hid his signature piece of legislation in the second half of his speech, a move that indicates his lack of surety and faith in its prospects for success. To my mind, there is no worse message that you can send to the public.

Many of the ideas Obama put forth tonight are good ones. I want to see America succeed and I know the President does as well. But he missed a valuable opportunity to show America, and indeed the world, what America is really made of and what the real strength of our character is.

In the run-up to the 2012 election, President Obama missed a valuable opportunity to make American exceptionalism the cornerstone of his campaign. He missed that same opportunity again tonight.

It follows that my complaint about tonight’s speech is much the same as it has been over Obama’s presidency. Where are the details? Where is the bipartisanship? Where is the leadership?

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