When President Obama stands before a joint session of Congress for his State of the Union Address, millions of Americans — including myself — will be watching with interest and curiosity.
Will the president acknowledge the miscalculations and incompetently led implementation of his signature health care law?
Will he apologize for misleading millions of Americans that they can keep their insurance and doctor if they choose?
Will he call attention to debt and deficit levels with a focus on the real cost-drivers?
Will he finally take ownership of his duties and obligations as commander in chief and provide America’s fighting men and women the assurance that the Afghan mission will be determined not by politics but conditions on the ground?
If the past is any indicator, the answer to these questions is a resounding no. Not a chance.
There is a big difference between what millions of Americans want and deserve to hear from the president and what we all can expect to actually hear.
Perhaps it has something to do with the high level of frustration for what seems to be a president who is disconnected from his office. Maybe it has something to do with the rehearsed response that he didn’t know or was unaware of high-profile matters, as the case with Operation Fast and Furious, the four dead Americans in Benghazi, the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service and the activities of the National Security Agency, just to name a few.
In these instances among others, the president has created his own credibility deficit that has hurt his ability to effectively work across the aisle, as well as with some members of his own party. Of course, even self-inflicted wounds like these can be healed, but pretending they don’t exist won’t help the recovery.
The president has a real opportunity during this State of the Union address to take some responsibility for actions and decisions under his leadership. In turn, there must be every assumption that his agenda will not change, but that might very well be something more Americans are willing to tolerate — in whole or in part — for the type of forthrightness that has so far been elusive.
In fairness, many of the challenges that exist today are the responsibility of successive administrations and transcend decades of political leadership, but these administrations do not decide what happens today. There is only one president and one commander in chief. His decisions and actions have real implications now and for the future.
Come Tuesday night, the president is bound to put forth an agenda that, through all the overtures and applause lines, relies on a federal government that is larger and more expansive. For House Republicans, the agenda will remain as much about solutions as it is about undoing. Between the margins, there is always room for consensus, but that means engaging Congress instead of always shutting the door or circumventing the House and Senate on policy objectives.
What President Obama says and how he chooses to follow through is up to him. But like the president’s five years office so far, there’s every expectation that the State of the Union address will fall flat or to be full of empty rhetoric —and not much else.
Rep. Duncan Hunter is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California.