The State of the Union? The President Was Too Hyped to Care

President Obama after the State of the Union (January 2016 screenshot), © Susan Barsy
I was disappointed in President Obama’s final State of the Union address.  Though I am generally appreciative of the president, in this instance he did a real disservice to the nation, wasting a key opportunity to acknowledge the true condition of the land, the economy, and the citizens.

How refreshing it would be to hear a factual State of the Union address, where the essential aspects of our collective existence were candidly enumerated, realistically described.  Though thoroughly out of fashion, an address so styled would reassure Americans that the president sincerely cared about their pain and discontents, that the guy at the top identified with what they were experiencing.  Offering such recognition consistently and in a heartfelt way is only right, given that the prospects of many Americans are shrinking.  Particularly imperiled is the prospect that Americans will enjoy personal autonomy and independence: that they will stay free of debt, realize their potential, and, as they mature and grey, have enough to sustain themselves and their families.

Instead of frankly acknowledging the trade-offs that the government constantly makes for the sake of global supremacy and national pride, the President exhorted citizens to ’embrace change’ and take comfort in the fact that ‘The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth, period,’ and that ‘We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.’  Reasserting the vision that catapulted him to office in the first place (remember Change You Can Believe In?), President Obama urged Americas to have faith in the beneficent nature of change itself.   Even as he paid lip service to some of the nation’s glaring problems, his tone remained unduly up-beat and celebratory.  In the end, his platitudinous tone made me sad and uneasy.

Contrast his speech with Pope Francis’s somber eloquence when he similarly addressed a joint meeting of Congress last fall.  While the pope, too, paid homage to American dreams, his speech stood out for its moral discernment and honesty—the precision with which he outlined the great problems facing America and the world. His observations were at once compassionate and unflinching.  Perhaps it’s unfair to compare a pope and a president, but, in such a case, the president’s take on the nation comes off as almost callous, as willfully out of sync with the people he leads.

4 responses

  1. Yes, I sure agree with you; it would have been refreshing to hear “truly” what the state of the union is. There are so many stats he could have mentioned, using info gathered from ALL the heads of the Cabinet . . . . He could also have tossed in many, many things that the govt provides to citizens of this country that it seems too many folks have forgotten or tend to take for granted.

    • Yes, the government accomplishes so much on behalf of the states and the populace, and has sought to resolve many complex issues, however imperfect the results have been. I wish the president had analyzed and summarized our status on our behalf, instead of declaiming about what he thought we should feel and do.

  2. Susan—I’m reminded of the movie Tootsie when Jessica Lange tells Dustin Hoffman (when playing the part of a woman) that she wishes a man would just be honest and say “I’m attracted to you, lets go to bed together.” When he uses those same words on her when he is not in drag (a man this time), she throws the drink at him. People don’t really want the truth from their leaders—they want Hope, encouragement, leadership, support, etc, but never the cold, hard truth. Besides—what is the “truth” to one person, isn’t the “truth” to another—especially if they are politicians, reporters, members of congress, governors and other leaders. We hear what you’re saying, but it never happens!

    • Great anecdote, Michele, and I hear what you’re saying. I can only speak for myself at this point, but as a Chicagoan, living in a city rife with candy-coating and dishonesty, I have an insatiable longing to hear something honest from elected officials.

      I think the centrism of the Democratic party has largely stood us in good stead, but in this instance I wish the president had focused less on his own feelings and done more to channel the troubled and unsettled mood of the populace. Leaders can influence the direction of politics through the mood of their oratory. As you suggest, if they don’t do it right, though, it can backfire!