Here’s a prediction about President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union that isn’t very bold:
No matter what he says in Tuesday night’s address, odds are that Republicans will openly pan it—but not actually find much to critique on the merits.
Although Obama and Republicans are expected to focus on “income inequality” in the upcoming political season, it’s hard to see where they’ll find common ground, because if there’s a truism in the Obama era, it’s that his opponents are uninterested, even, in “looking good themselves if it means that he looks good” in the process.
Clearly, there’s less enthusiasm for Obama than there once was. His approval rating, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, is a lackluster 43 percent, and it’s unlikely that he’ll move the needle significantly with one State of the Union address. But he’s still more popular than Congress—which has a 13 percent approval rating—and on the issue where the president is most vulnerable, 54 percent of Americans still say that they want to fix, but not ditch, Obamacare.
What Republicans will hate most isn’t what’s in Obama’s SOTU. It’s that he’s the one giving it.
They Have to Sit There and Listen
The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan—President Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter—dismally previewed Obama’s speech by writing that it’s doomed before he even gives it because the president is, as she describes him, “a nonstop windup talk machine.” That’s a pretty harsh assessment.
But since you could probably describe any president that way, I suspect that part of what disturbs her, and Republicans generally, is that State of the Union night reminds Republicans that despite their best efforts to unseat him, Obama is still the only president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to win the popular vote in back-to-back elections. And it’s the one night of the year where he’s got the nation’s (or, at least, the TV networks’) undivided attention, and when he’s accorded all the pomp and fanfare that goes with being both head of government and head of state. And that after this SOTU, he’ll be delivering the speech two more times.