State of the Union addresses are sometimes described as laundry lists, but President Obama's speech last year was more of a wish list — a series of hopeful ideas, most of which had little to no chance of ever going anywhere.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler looked back at the litany of proposals from last year's big presidential address to Congress and found that almost no action was taken on any of them: Just four of the 23 proposals in the speech resulted in any completed actions. (Those that did tended to be pretty basic stuff: the passage of a budget, the completion of a bipartisan commission report on the voting experience in America, etc.)
Another way to put it is that last year's State of the Union was mostly meaningless — a grab bag of ideas that never took.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that President Obama has decided to look for ways to go around Congress instead. With his own approval numbers sagging, and a midterm election on the way that's likely to favor the GOP, he knows that his legislative agenda will probably remain as stagnant this year as it was last.
So he's putting together a to-do list of executive actions for the coming year. "We're not just going to be waiting for legislation" he said earlier this month. "I've got a pen and I've got a phone." And he plans to wield them both.
But first he'll wield the power of the pulpit. This year's address to the joint Congress is widely expected to be built around the theme of inequality. "Obama's message "will place any discussion of inequality in the broader context of shrinking economic opportunity," White House advisers tell The Washington Post. "He will seek to make his economic policy more easily relatable to ordinary Americans, focusing on college affordability, retirement security, infrastructure, health care and other issues."
In other words, another grab bag. At least we can take solace in the hope that most of it won't matter.
That and a tasty beverage. Reason staffers will be live Tweeting and live-drinking the speech. For those who want to play along, the rules (guidelines, really) are below.
Take a drink, and click a link, any time President Obama…
- Mentions inequality. Take another if, in the same sentence, he refers to "the wealthiest Americans." Chug the rest of the bottle if he mentions "the 1 percent."
- Describes government spending as an investment.
- Talks about economic mobility without noting that mobility has not changed in fifty years.
- Forgets to apologize for lying when he said that people who liked their doctors and their health plans could keep them under Obamacare.
- Says the words "nation building at home."
- Falsely insists that there's no evidence of any abuses of power at the National Security Agency.
- Grudgingly admits that the surveillance state may have gone too far—but calls for weak reforms that won't rein in its power.
- Credits Obamacare for its Medicaid enrollment, despite the fact that we have no idea how many Medicaid enrollees since October are for people who are newly eligible under the law.
- Mentions Syria, which Obama wanted to bomb, and then (thank goodness!) didn't.
- Says anything interesting about foreign policy.
- Falsely presents something as a false choice.
- Starts any sentence with the words, "Let me be clear." Double shot if it's an ad-lib not in the prepared text.
Finally, take a drink any time the cameras cut away to Chad Henderson, the Obamacare poster boy who told reporters he was among the first to sign up under the law but hadn't actually enrolled in health insurance. He says he'll be there, as a guest of Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman.
As always, Reason encourages drinking responsibly. How else will you know when a politician is trying to pull one over on you?