Obama’s Final State of the Union: ‘I’m Out’

Here are five things to watch for in President Obama’s final State of the Union speech tonight.

President Barack Obama waves before giving last year’s State of the Union in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, D.C.  
President Barack Obama waves before giving last year’s State of the Union in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, D.C.   Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Seven straight years of frothing-at-the-mouth Republicans. Haters pushing derail buttons on your presidency. The irritating reality that a good quarter of the population still believes you weren’t born here.

Now, in the wake of all that, you must give your last official speech before a shark-infested Congress openly hoping for your demise. What would you do?

You’d throw a left hook so hard that it slammed “Bamas” into the next sequel of Creed.

But you won’t get that from chronically cool President Barack Obama as he delivers his final State of the Union address.

In the anxious runup, his detractors seek more reasons to demonize him, as hang-in-there supporters fantasize epic, hood-style shutdowns.

Will there be any unprepared or beautifully timed snaps (“I won both of them”)? Will he throw some well-placed policy punches (“Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan”) and poke a hole in the right? Depends on how much his heart is in it. It will be bittersweet and poignant, a portrait of a president both scorned and defiant, embattled but steady and deliberate.

Sifting through the cesspool and zoo of Washington, D.C., we should find a troubled artist searching for his last good Capitol Hill poem.

“Obama could advance the long-standing debate about what government should and should not do,” says McGill University history professor Gil Troy. “Obama’s stealth liberalism fails to fool Republicans. The shift from ‘Yes we can’ poet to technocratic cataloger bores Democrats.”

There is no real agenda anymore because the clock runs faster when it’s an election year. But Obama cares too much to get too tired; he so wants to throw up his hands and draw some satisfaction from that, but, of course, knows he can’t. So watch for the following five things:

“I’m out.” He’s still got a full year before his tear-jerking farewell. But this president no longer harbors hopeful illusions about Washington and a Congress with which he endlessly battled on pretty much every policy initiative he created. There will be flashes of rhetorical door slams behind him on the way out. He’ll talk over Congress to a divided public in passionate pleas for national unity and calm, painting acrimonious lawmakers as pestilent, national troublemakers who held him back. Something will feel like: “Look what we could’ve been, America.”

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