The president did what he had to do. He delivered a well-written, well-crafted speech that hit all the right notes and drew the appropriate applause lines.
Obama advanced the agenda his has honed over the last four years in office, emphasizing equality, a strong middle class and increased spending. He called for more investment, raising taxes and only modest reform to entitlement programs. In short, he told us that we already know about his vision or America.
There were indeed the gestures towards bipartisanship lawmaking and a shift away from the brinksmanship that has paralyzed our system that we heard from Obama on the campaign trail, in his inaugural address and during the fiscal cliff negotiations. But these points fell flat when considering that there has been no genuine desire and willingness to achieve bipartisanship or to call on the Republicans for any bargain that would produce immediate legislative results from the president.
To be sure, bipartisan lawmaking is what we need. As I have argued for years and in my latest book, we are on the brink of collapse due to the divisiveness that dominates our legislative system. To this end, President Obama failed to tell us how we will achieve it, especially considering the divisiveness of Washington politics today.
It follows that while Tuesday night’s State of the Union was a great speech, to see it as anything other than a reiteration of the themes that the president has articulated previously would be a mistake.
The themes the president emphasized Tuesday night have been good to him. They have won him two presidential elections and a seat in the Senate. They have endeared him to middle class Americans, minorities and the international community. Moreover, they have earned him an approval rating above 50 percent which, if history is any guide, will increase that rating by some 3-5 points in the coming days.
The real question then becomes, can the Republicans offer a credible alternative to the president’s vision for America?
Marco Rubio began the very long process of answering that question Tuesday night. He emphasized smaller government, lower taxes and economic growth. And he acknowledged the difficult road ahead.
But make no mistake, it is the president’s night and it will always be the president’s night.
That said, even though it was the president’s night it remains to be seen when America will have its night and we will finally get to see the prospect of an agreement between the parties on the sequester, tax reform and a budget. Until that happens, it is all just rhetoric and a secure future going forward remains as illusory as ever.