President Obama gave a great pep talk Tuesday night, and his Democratic team cheered him with fervor. Republicans stood and applauded on rare occasions, but mostly sat silently. Did we really expect anything different from a State of the Union speech?
Many Americans were engaged in other pursuits. Some are asking why the president puts us through this annual ritual that doesn’t count for much in the overall scheme of getting things done in Washington, D.C.
Jon Favreau of The Daily Beast, a news reporting and opinion website, called it a “grueling ritual year after year.” However, he said it does have some value.
“For a brief moment, we get to witness our system of government as the proud, democratic institution it was meant to be, not the sad, partisan spectacle it has too often become,” Favreau said.
Maybe so, but there was only one part of the speech that moved some of us to tears and gave us that sense of pride the country seems to have lost. It came late when Obama introduced Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. And the fact it happened during his 10th deployment says a lot about the unfair sacrifices some of our military men and women are having to make.
Remsburg had been clapping all evening by patting his right hand on his chest. His left hand was curled in a brace, he is still blind in one eye and struggles on his left side.
The president said, “… Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures and hours of grueling rehab every day.
“Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit.”
The applause that continued for a minute and 44 seconds said it all. And Remsburg’s thumbs up a few times said a lot about his character and perseverance in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
If only we could say the same things about our federal government in Washington, D.C. The headlines Wednesday morning told a different story.
“Good speech, modest agenda, diminished leader,” said National Journal, a respected political magazine in the nation’s capital. “Americans may have already tuned out Barack Obama,” said another headline.
An Associated Press analysis concluded, “Count 2014 as the year President Barack Obama’s agenda went from bold to bite-sized.” Obama talked about going around Congress with executive orders and regulatory action to get things done, but Nancy Benac in her analysis said, “There is plenty Obama can do on his own. But creativity is no substitute for clout.”
James Oliphant of National Journal said the president’s power play won’t help Democratic senators running for re-election in November. Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times said there are no contested Senate races in the states where Obama is most popular. The opposite is true where Democratic senators seeking new terms are running.
“In Louisiana, where Democrat Mary Landrieu is battling for re-election, Obama had a 40 percent positive rating…,” Decker said.
Poor job ratings are at the heart of Obama’s problems. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal survey shows his job approval rating at 43 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 63 percent have no confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country’s future. Fifty-two percent said he doesn’t “understand the problems of people like you.”
The Wall Street Journal said, “Since the rise of modern polling in the 1930s, only George W. Bush has begun his sixth year in the White House on rockier ground than Mr. Obama.”
Ron Fournier of National Journal said people who were surveyed in the NBC-WSJ poll were asked for one or two words to describe the state of the nation. He notes the top answers were “divided” (37 percent), “troubled” (23 percent) and “deteriorating” (21 percent).
None of that is surprising. Fournier said of the 41 initiatives Obama put before Congress a year ago, only two were enacted. One was the bill to raise the debt limit, which is normally a routine process, and a measure addressing violence against women.
An extremely divided Congress shares much of the blame for that, and its poll ratings are awful. The NBC-WSJ poll had its job approval rating at 13 percent, with 81 percent disapproving. Six of seven recent polls had the job disapproval rating of Congress in the 80-percent range.
Republicans are having a difficult time keeping unity in their ranks, and they have serious image problems. However, analysts say even the few initiatives Obama put forth Tuesday night will have tough sledding in Congress.
Both the president and Congress appear to continually overlook the economy, which is the No. 1 issue that is so troubling to the American people. Those seven recent polls show an average of 62.9 percent of the people think the country is on the wrong track. Only 29.5 percent believe it’s headed in the right direction.
The federal government can’t seem to answer the two big questions that are so important to Americans — “When are you going to do something that helps me and my family and get this country back on track?”