“Whatever, Guys …”

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

I mentioned during the speech that the President seemed to have a bit more jump in his step than I expected, perhaps more than the dented poll numbers and sense of malaise hanging over the White House would suggest. The mere words of the speech are here. But the words of a State of the Union speech are like a libretto which is seldom the real essence of an opera or symphony. That’s the score.

What was the music the President was playing?

There was a lot of talk in advance about the President throwing down the gauntlet and doing a lot through executive action. And then more recently that the essence of the speech would focus on rising economic equality. Both were there. But I took a somewhat different message from listening to him deliver it.

I’d sum it up in two words: “Whatever, guys …”

Gone from the speech was what I’d heard in pretty much every other Obama State of the Union, pressing bipartisan cooperation, finding common ground, pushing points of agreement. There wasn’t a contrary note. It was more just ignoring the whole thing, as though the President were saying, “Okay, guys, I get it. You won’t do anything. Okay. Fine.”

Basically, let’s not play that charade anymore.

Partly, he has Obamacare, which he sees as his principal legislative accomplishment. It’s still not popular. But neither is repealing it. And the numbers are starting to move in its favor. But as much as anything he said to the Republican opposition, “Fine. You’re against it. It may hurt us. But it’s not going anywhere. So it’s just done. Whether you want to realize it or not.”

He also pointed to a handful of things he’ll do through executive action.

But as much as anything he seems comfortable (perhaps in some way liberated) with the fact that the legislative phase of his presidency is most likely over and seemed to be announcing what we call its rhetorical phase, using the bully pulpit to point a path for the country to move forward, using executive authority to nudge it forward where he can but mainly leaving a Congress that refuses to function to its own devices.

By the end I thought that was the snap in his step, the greater potency than I’d been inclined to expect.

They say history is written by the winners. What I heard him saying was that he wants and will start writing the history of the future with his presidency, even if his ability to put it into effect may be limited.

[We’re discussing the speech in this discussion thread at The Hive (sub req)]

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: