CNN had a countdown clock, like Cape Canaveral launching a rocket to Mars. “2 hours 19 minutes 44 seconds” the clock said, ticking down to The Big Moment.
So many talking heads appeared at once it was like a murmuration of starlings (except they flew in a giant loop because they could only turn left). John King worked “The Magic Wall,” diagramming congressional districts like Jon Gruden dissecting a play. Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room took us LIVE! to THE SITUATION — President Obama leaving the White House on his way to the Capitol (assuming he actually was in the black limo with tinted windows as it pulled away).
It was — The State of the Union, 21st century style.
The fanfare for the president’s annual speech to Congress has gotten absurd, but especially so in 2014, when nothing this president does matters. Not a single thing. He is irrelevant, inconsequential, insignificant. Hollow, empty, useless and worthless. Neither here nor there nor anywhere, fully deprived of practical significance, the lamest of lame ducks.
He is, in the end, just pushing rope, squashing water, pounding sand. Which is why his speech drew the smallest audience since the 2000 address of President Bill Clinton, a man whom few wanted to listen to after he had (falsely) told the public he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Mr. Obama, President of All the People, said “I” 51 times in his 7,000-word, 65-minute speech. He said “we” 100 times, but not “We Americans,” rather “We Democrats,” as in ” we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete. ” He said “new” 32 times, “help” 30 times, “first” 13 times, “right” 10 times. He loaded up on “America” and “American” and “Americans,” using the words 87 times. Breaks for applause: 96.
But between the lines and the numbers was pure pap, frivolous frippery, lines meant to draw applause in the fake bipartisan charade that the State of the Union has become. “In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” he said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”
And when the verbose speech was broken down afterward, all that was left was small ball, tiny inconsequential promises of action that affect few Americans. In his “year of action,” the president vowed a dozen executive actions, including the pledge to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers and a promise to speed up “ConnectEd,” whatever that is.
“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” he said to applause, applause, applause.
But the president has stood still since the very first day he took office. “The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift,” he said on a frigid Jan. 20, 2009. “And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.”
Five years later, he said this in his State of the Union: “Average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
Those words were an odd departure from the recitation of promises that filled his speech — a moment of clarity, even an admission that things have not gone according to his dreams of “Hope and Change,” the pledge to push past partisan divisions and deliver salvation to Americans young and old.
History will record that those five years were his five years. The State of the Union, the president was finally admitting, is dismal — wages aren’t increasing, millions are without work, millennials are moving back home with their parents, government spending is crushing economic recovery. To the famous Reagan question: Are you better off? the answer across America is no.
The president has spent five years blaming former President George W. Bush for driving the economy “into a ditch,” and campaigned across the country in 2012 telling voters that the “do-nothing” Congress had thwarted each and every one of his sure-fire solutions to restart the economy.