SOTU: The Struggle for Relevance
The State of the Union address, while featured on many channels, is rarely must see TV. Party affiliation of the President doesn’t matter. What usually matters is if the American people are looking for answers to direction, or if the country is in crisis.
When the country is in a mood as we are now, a somewhat laid back yet aggravated state of mind, the SOTU always struggles for an audience and more importantly, for relevance.
Wednesday headlines may talk about how President Obama intends to issue dozens of Executive Orders and work without the help of Congress. Top stories will mention President Obama’s plans on many initiatives and what those changes will mean to the country.
But the fact of the matter is that the news cycle for this year’s SOTU will likely be the shortest of the President’s five SOTU’s. That has very little to do with what he said and more to do with where the country is politically.
VIDEO: Obama’s Speech Gets A ‘Reality Check’
To say the country is divided politically would be one of the major understatements of the year, if not the decade. And one of the byproducts of that division is that when issues come up like the State of the Union address, people are not looking for anything new.
Democrats are not looking for motivation from this speech, because the attention is already focused down the road to the November election. Democrats must get prepared to protect the Senate and frankly are worried about the sting from the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Getting excited about an agenda that will have trouble getting off the ground is not a high priority.
Republicans certainly cannot get cocky, despite the difficulties the President faced in 2013. But they already have an agenda that counts on looking back to 2013 and not on an agenda for 2014. The November election for the GOP will be all about pointing to the problems of last year. Starting new fights over issues in 2014 would defeat that purpose.
So with the parties not focused on the SOTU, it is clear that unless the President announces a new war against Greenland or a new initiative to legalize marijuana, he’s not going to make many long lasting headlines.
When it comes to the substance of the speech, while myriad issues were brought up, the arching theme of working around Congress makes for fun repartee, but the reality is that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution are working against the President on this point. While Executive Powers allow him to implement some ideas and proposals, the truth is that nothing of real substance can come from purely Executive Orders.
Presidents throughout history have tried to use Executive Orders to work around Congress. Some made history, like Teddy Roosevelt and how he named new national monuments around the country when Congress wouldn’t agree on new national parks, but that’s an extreme example.
I don’t think we’ll be talking about the minimum wage hike of federal contractors to $10.10 one hundred years from now.
For now, we can enjoy the next 24 hours or so of the SOTU news cycle and then get right back to things that matter more to America, which is just about everything else.
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About The Blogger
- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.