State of the Union

Obama's State of the Union Address Was a Bid to Influence the Next Democratic Campaign

Obama, bored with Congress, stages a kickoff event for an imaginary third term.


Since 2008, President Barack Obama has been the most important man in politics. He was the protagonist of the meta-story that is American government, the central figure in the political theater of Washington, D.C.

The narrative of government was his narrative, one that he could shape and influence, if not quite fully control. 

But as Obama enters the final two years as president, his grip on that story is slipping. Yes, he's still the most prominent elected official in the nation, a powerful executive who controls the bully pulpit. But as Republicans have overtaken Congress, the narrative has shifted and scattered, and as the 2016 campaign grows louder it will scatter even further. Obama is on the way to losing his relevance.

Last night's State of the Union address was a bid to maintain that relevance through 2016 and in the years beyond. Mostly beyond. As an Associated Press report suggested in a preview yesterday, key proposals from the speech appeared "to be aimed at driving the debate in the 2016 election on income inequality and middle-class economic issues, rather than setting a realistic agenda for Congress."

In theory, the State of the Union is a report submitted to Congress for their benefit. In practice, Congress was barely necessary. At this point, the Obama White House is only interested in Congress to the extent that it is willing to rubber stamp the president's agenda. And the agenda presented last night was one that Republicans in Congress were certain to dismiss: tax hikes and an expensive free college program, free childcare and mandatory paid sick leave.

No, this was not an agenda for Congress. It was an agenda for a Democratic presidential campaign, or perhaps an administration. It was a marker, designed to shape future Democratic candidates, and, as David Frum suggests, Hillary Clinton most of all. The various proposals Obama offered were not designed to pass or serve as the starting point for compromise measures that could pass, but to generate responses from Clinton and other possible contenders, narrowing their options and, in the process, making them more Obama-like. Obama used the State of the Union to ensure that her campaign does not veer too far from the one he would like to see.

Indeed, Obama seemed almost wistful last night when he noted that he had run his last campaign—and then responded to Republican cheers with an ad-libbed retort: "I won them both." Obama has always preferred campaigning to governing, and last night's speech was a kind of imaginary campaign speech, a kickoff event for the campaign he would have run.

Perhaps the most telling quote about the speech was the one White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer gave to The Washington Post shortly before the speech: "We will not be limited by what will pass this Congress, because that would be a very boring two years." Obama is bored with Congress, and he barely bothers to hide it.

The legislators who came and watched and cheered last night were, for the most part, just props in Obama's stage play. Last night's address was delivered to Congress, but it was not really to Congress, or about them. There was essentially no recognition of the defeat Obama's party suffered at the polls last November, a defeat driven by widely shared frustration with the president, no sense that the president plans to compromise his ambitions as a result. Obama, the candidate of change, declined to change.

Instead, he closed with an extended reminder that he remains the same person he was during his 2008 campaign, with the same beliefs and values and sensibilities. He still believes in his own story, and his speech was a call for others to continue that story even after he has left the central role. 

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  1. I figured it was to allow the Dem 2016 candidates to say: “We wanted to give you all this free shit, but the obstructionist Rethuglicans wouldn’t let us! Vote donkey and we’ll give you all this free shit!”

    1. If that is the message, it will likely fall flat. He didn’t win in 2008 or in 2012 on the promise of free shit. That is a myth Republicans like to tell themselves because it makes them feel good and that everyone who is against them must be a bum.

      He won in 2012 because the conservative base didn’t turn out for Romney and a good portion of the country voted based on culture war bullshit like “war on women” and “Obama really seems to care and Romney doesn’t”. And even with that, if the polls are to believed, if they re-ran the election today, he would likely lose.

      In some ways the Democrats are the victims of their own success. The government gives out so much free shit the marginal value of promising more free shit is pretty limited. The Democrats always promise free shit. If doing that were all it took to win, they would never lose.

      1. That is a myth Republicans like to tell themselves because it makes them feel good and that everyone who is against them must be a bum.

        That actually kinda explains why Republicans are so prone to offering free shit themselves.

        1. The Republican establishment are just ordinary crooks. More than anything they want to not rock the boat and enjoy life in power while taking a few perks for their cronies. They are for the most part small men with small imaginations.

          In normal times, this would not be much of a problem. Most politicians are crooks and you have to expect theft and cronyism to be a part of government. As long as the thieves and cronies are small men with limited imaginations, which the GOP establishment universally are, they won’t steal too much or do too much damage.

          In times like these where the other party has gone bat shit insane such that they are actively trying to bankrupt the country and or swing the country towards full fascism, the small men of the GOP establishment are a disaster. They lack the imagination to fully comprehend the threat the face. Since they are small and generally cowards, they are happy to do whatever is necessary to get along with the other side in order to keep their lives of petty graft going. Such men stand little chance when faced with real fanatics.

          1. So how do you see it playing out?

            1. Financial crisis.

              If we’re lucky, it won’t trigger a currency collapse, and we’ll merely go through Great Depression II, Electric Boogaloo.

              The evaporation of tax revenue and the contraction of the bond market will force fiscal realism and consequently a more limited government, in a very painful way.

              Mind you, that’s the best case. The only question is when, and whether we will actually get the best case, or something worse.

          2. The worst part is the batshit insane party sincerely believes it’s impossible for the country to go bankrupt.

            My brain just locks up trying to comprehend the … person? Whatever. I can’t articulate anything because I really didn’t know there were people this fucking stupid.

          3. Meh, statists gunna be statists. theres no difference between getting your money stolen for defense contractors or green energy boondoggles.
            the money is still stolen

            1. A difference in quantity becomes a difference in quality at some point.

              Defense programs are not created to expand exponentially the way entitlements are.

          4. I’m really temped to make a “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” reference here. There’s that scene where Gary Oldman, Cold War British spy, reflects on how he came to realize that he could outwit his Soviet counterpary/nemesis. The Soviet spy had refused to cooperate with the west even when he was on the verge of being purged in Russia. Oldman realized that it was because he was a ‘fanatic,’ a true believer. That was his weakness, and he knew sooner or later he would overplay his hand.

            Great movie.

          5. “. Most politicians are crooks and you have to expect theft and cronyism to be a part of government”

            No actually you can hang them for their crimes and the crony train will stop running.

      2. I don’t know how many Dems/Libs you hang out with, but In my experience “free shit” was a huge motivator for his voters. Back then millions of people really believed they were getting free health care. I remember the conversations well.

        But I would say “free shit” was reason #2. Reason #1 was the Bush stench; there as no way a Repub was going to win no matter who the Dems nominated.

        2012 was pure class warfare Dem SOP, meaning people thought their free shit would be taken away if they voted for Romney. Romney playing prevent offense/defense, ala GB this past Sunday, after he destroyed Obama in the first debate was factor #2.

        1. “wegunna get some of that OBAMA money!”
          “where does oObama get all that money from?”
          “fool hes OBAMA hes got bags of money sittin around”

          Actual obama supporter from 2008

        2. The liberals I know are not bums. The ones I know all have money and work hard. They didn’t vote Obama for free shit.

          It makes us all feel good to tell ourselves that everyone who is not a Libertarian or a Conservative is just a bum who wants free shit. It is, however, just not true. And go and look at the results of the last election and you will see that. Obama won people with advanced degrees by a wide margin. Those people are not demanding welfare. Romney won the middle and lower middle class. You would think those would be the ones demanding free shit.

          I don’t like liberals anymore than we do. But we do ourselves no favors by pretending that everyone who disagrees wiht us is just a bum. Its not true. There is more going on here than that.

          1. I respect the reasons of my bum friends and aquaintances more than those of the rich white people who voted for him because it was cool.
            It took both kinds to get him elected.

          2. I dunno. Most of the people I talked about it with both have jobs, and were on the “free health care” trip. They’re not straight up bums, but they definitely wanted … hrm. “Significantly price reduced shit”, if not precisely “free shit”.

            1. To bad the prices are not actually cheaper though……but the progressives will not learn.

        3. I think not being Bush was easily why he won in 2008. A kangaroo with a D next to its name would have won against any Republican. 2012 I think was healthcare; Obama timed it well, just late enough “you’ll have to vote for me to see my healthcare reform through.” Most people were discontented enough with the status quo and curious enough to experiment with Obama on that one. If he’d pushed it out earlier and shit were already hitting the fan during election season, he might not have fared so well.

          Not to be too hard on Romney though (not that I like him), I don’t think anyone of the GOP frontrunners would have won. It was between a slimy lackluster moderate (Romney) and a puritanical “born in a log cabin” jingoist (Santorum or Perry); the latter would have scared the center leftward; the former just failed to inspire.

      3. No, John, he won in 2012 because enough voters had made up their minds long before (and regardless who his opponent was) that they’d better vote for him, because if he didn’t get re-elected it’d forever be, “The black guy screwed up, which shows they’re no good.”

    2. I don’t know; is Obama that generous? I think this is about solidifying his legacy and a group of supporters that will pay him and defend him after he has left office. “You can’t criticize him, look at how ambitious he was!” I don’t think he cares who follows him, and I am very skeptical that he tailored his speech to benefit Clinton.

      1. Not to benefit Clinton, of course not; to steer her, to narrow her choices, so she can’t go far off his plantation and besmirch his legacy.

        1. Yes, to control her. Usually by midway through second term, presidents look like they can’t wait to get out of office; Obama seems like he can’t bear the thought of having to give it up. Kind of disconcerting actually.

    3. I think you’re not giving him enough credit for the tremendous courage it takes to spend other people’s money.

  2. one more campaign speech. When all you have is a hammer…..

  3. No alt-text?

    How about: “Ok, so it is not a blue dress but it IS blue… Catch my drift?”

    1. Please tell me how “LOL” isn’t the only response she gets when she wears a blue dress?

    2. Michelle would kill him. Besides, she keeps his balls in her purse.

      1. ….. right next to her’s.

  4. Here is the question, going into 2016 having not only lost control of Congress but now having their smallest minority in decades and lost control of a huge number of state legislatures and governor’s mansions under Obama, will the Democratic Party want to continue to follow Obama or will they be tired enough of losing that they will kick him to the curb?

    Hillary clearly thinks the latter option is the only choice. I think she is probably right about that. I can’t see how they could win in 2016 running on a “four more years of Obama” platform. More than a few Democrats, however, seem to disagree.

    1. John, I don’t see how the Democrats can follow this unqualified pied piper any longer. Sure, Obama was popular for a few years but I think that a majority of the middle base of voters have seen through his shit eating grin and now see who he really is, and they realize they were duped. I expect the Democrats to run away from Obama just like they did last fall.

      On a side note, the bottom photo in the article is great. Hillary looks like she wants to take that pen away from Obama and stab him through the ear with it.

      1. She does. The Clintons, for all of their faults, are at heart party operatives to the last. For all of their own narcissism and raw and vulgar love of power, the Clintons do care about the Democratic Party as a whole and feel a sense of duty to preserve it. This is why Bill was able to triangulate so well after the 1994 elections. He may not have believed in a single thing he did, but he knew it was necessary for the future of the party.

        Obama isn’t like that. He doesn’t give a shit or feel any sense of duty to anyone or anything but himself. If him getting what he wants and remaining a big cheese means the Democratic Party goes down, well that is just too bad. I think the Clintons realize that about him and hate him even more so for it.

        1. Spot on assessment. And I will enjoy watching Obama’s career after his failed presidency is over because not many people will give a shit about him after he’s moved out of the White House. Obama will be a fucking wreck for years because people will not have to kiss his ass anymore. It will be delightful.

          1. How long can you let college girls adore you?


          2. At some point I would think the Democrats at the state level and in Congress are going to get tired of losing. If you are a Democrat in the House your life sucks. You have no influence and no one gives a shit what you think.

            I will be very surprised if a few enterprising Congressional Dems don’t get together and start negotiating with the Republicans to pass bills with enough votes to override his vetoes. A group of 30 or so House members and 11 Senators could go from having no influence to being among the most powerful people in Washington overn night. I can’t believe they will resist that temptation to stay loyal to this dumb ass.

            1. I’ve been thinking the same thing. Maybe this past election will finally spark this.

              But, IMO, until the media stops their lovefest, nothing will change.

            2. But, many of the House-D’s who are still there are from super safe, super left districts. They might actually be representing their constituents fairly well. And this makes it much easier for them believe their own poop about Kochs, Citizens United, and just needing to communicate more effectively.

        2. Please. Hillary wouldn’t even suck Bill’s dick “for the good of the party.”

          1. Maybe she did. It is not her fault Bill didn’t like her skills.

            1. yes it is, she seems like the type of bitch that complains the entire time about how you need to do it “her way”
              she probably doesnt even deepthroat

              1. I am some what sure she has not even seen a mans third member

            2. Her fangs make it difficult.

        3. But Obama’s extremism compared to others in the party has bred some die-hard loyalists. Not to mention being the first black president; I think they (and he) will work hard to rehabilitate him, just like Napoleon after his fall from power. Despite his unpopularity at the time of his fall, the Bonapartists were a force to be reckoned with for nearly a century. The moderate Democrats have to steer things centerward while still trying to seem true to Obama’s legacy, because disowning that legacy entirely would some sense be like conceding the legitimacy of the party.

          Of course, if Obama and enough of his allies in Congress can keep the GOP from overriding him, then he may just manage to get his narrative through of being stopped from passing his noble agenda by the obstructionist GOP. He will also claim credit for the improving economy, and recall it only took a couple years after the euphoria of his election for most Americans to turn more or less against him; so if this is the end of him as an effective president, by the time he’s officially done, people pay already be nostalgic for his earlier years and comparing him with the ‘Republican status quo.’ In short, it isn’t impossible that the Dems of 2016 will be trying to out-left each in order to purport to be the purveyors of Obama’s legacy.

        4. ” the Clintons do care about the Democratic Party as a whole and feel a sense of duty to preserve it. ”

          Only because that is the “party” that gave them the “power” they craved….had they never been communists in collage the “other” side may have had their devotion.

    2. Which is the beauty of the left’s base. They never grasp that their policies are worn out and unpopular.

      1. They can’t see past their own moral signalling. They actually think that sanctimonious bullshit they spout is objectively true.

        1. Yeah, if anyone thinks following Obama’s policies after the last few years is a good idea, well, about that bridge…

          Seriously, let that ‘ol bag preach this shit, I don’t think I could stand to look at those cankles for four (or god forbid, 8) years.

    3. I think you’re probably right in the general. The problem is, I don’t see how she can take the nomination without running to the left in the primary. Given how badly the Dems have done outside the presidency, it’s pretty much hollowed out their party’s moderate wing. If Clinton tries running as a centrist, that pretty much guarantees a Warren challenge.

      Also, trying to distance herself from Obama is kind of a fool’s errand. Her party has held the White House for the last eight years, and it’s not exactly like she’s been off in Chappaqua writing her memoirs all that time.

      When’s the last time someone won the White House running distancing themselves from and incumbent in their own party?

      1. Never. You are right Bill. That is why I think the Democrats are in a lot of trouble in 2016 and probably again in 2018. It is going to take until 2020 to return some sanity to the party. Maybe not even then. It may be that they have so damaged their brand with so much of the country and so effectively purged moderates that there aren’t enough moderates left to bring the party back to sanity.

        1. Until the Reds overreach…

          1. maybe. But it is hard to see how they would. The Democrats have largely won the culture war. So where are they going to overreach?

            1. Meh. Never underestimate the power of the Republican leadership to screw things up.

            2. Military/intelligence industrial complex

              1. The Democrats love that too.

            3. John, you know the culture war is never won, it just moves on to other battlegrounds.

        2. It is going to take until 2020 to return some sanity to the party. Maybe not even then.

          I’m leaning toward the latter. To do 2020 you’d need work to be getting under way right now. Yes, I realize 5 years is a lot of time in politics, but we’re talking about completely rebuilding an entire brand within the party. At present, not only do I not see any evidence of that happening, I don’t see any interest in even pursuing the idea. Honestly, I don’t see much in the way of even pursuing a moderate course until at least 2016 (and that assumes a Republican takes the White House) or more likely 2018. That puts the Democrats on track for the early-to-mid 2020s.

      2. Hell, not many in a very long time have even succeeded another incumbent in their own party no matter how they ran. Last one was Bush Sr., and before that…uh…Truman, and before him…uh…?

      3. I think the causality may be backwards: No one wins the presidency right after an unpopular president of the same party, so no matter how much distance you try to make, people will still be wary enough to go for the other guy.

        I also think that an impotent Obama (gridlock with the GOP) may well help both Obama’s legacy and the Dems in 16. It will give people two years to forget why they didn’t like Obama (more than long enough to us perpetually amnesiac Americans) and find plenty of new things to blame on the GOP. They could

    4. will the Democratic Party want to continue to follow Obama or will they be tired enough of losing that they will kick him to the curb?

      Regardless of what they say about Obama, I think the people who actually matter in the Dem party are now a pretty hardcore group of lefty crypto-Marxist prog multi-culti tranzi race-baiters.

      They aren’t going to change, so the Dem Party will continue to act like its run by a pretty hardcore group of lefty crypto-Marxist prog multi-culti tranzi race-baiters.

      1. Then it will continue to be completely uncompetitive in large swaths of the country and see its influence and power decline with each election.

        1. Not to be a pessimist, but you never know. Extremist minorities have taken over many a country in the face of docile majorities. Back in the 1900s, the Mensheviks (moderates) outnumbered the Bolsheviks, but the latter marketed themselves aggressively and managed to convince everyone that they were the voice of the people; hell, Bolshevik means majority, and they even got the Mensheviks to let themselves be called Mensheviks (which means minority; poor PR decision). Eventually it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the rest is history.

          I mean, if the media can convince so many people that the Occupy movement was a big significant thing, not just a cadre of unhinged lunatics shouting incoherently at buildings, what can’t they convince people of?

    5. Right now I think a large number of them still believe their own crap. Will have to lose the Presidency before they get it.

  5. Something tells me that hillary clinton is not about to take her cues from Obama.

  6. that would be a very boring two years.

    Please? Can we have a boring two years? How about a boring decade? I could get behind a decade or two where congress didn’t pass any new laws.

    Why are you all laughing? Stop laughing at me!

    1. *gives curt nod to State Mental Health men with straight jacket*

    2. I could get behind a decade or two where congress didn’t pass any new laws.

      I’m pretty sure these fuckwads are incapable of leaving shit alone for 10 days. 10 years?


  7. It was an agenda for a Democratic presidential campaign, or perhaps an administration. It was a marker, designed to shape future Democratic candidates, and, as David Frum suggests, Hillary Clinton most of all. The various proposals Obama offered were not designed to pass or serve as the starting point for compromise measures that could pass, but to generate responses from Clinton and other possible contenders, narrowing their options and, in the process, making them more Obama-like.

    Short version: Obama plans to destroy the Democrat Party.

    1. No way. He has daughters. They need someone to mooch off of after Daddy’s money runs dry in 40 years and they’re too old to suck cock for blow.

      1. You’re never too old to suck cock for blow, as long as you have a paper bag to put over your head.

  8. Obama’s speech was very clearly aimed at maintaining his effete support in the realms of Panem. One day those guys will get their comeuppance at the hands of rand Paul and his district 12 victims in flyover country. I think the surest way to get back at these elites in New York and California is to enact tax cuts for them. That’ll show them. You people who voted for rand Paul sure are smart.

    1. Please, to prove you are not just a troll, admit one bad thing about Obama and good thing about Bush.

      1. Hell, I’ll go first:

        Obama: he’s a pathological liar, even worse than a normal politician

        Bush: he threw a great pitch in the 2001 World Series in NYC

        1. Funny shit…

      2. Bad thing about Obama: his initial handling of Benghazi, where he talked about people making a film about Islam instead of talking about terrorism.

        Good thing about bush: this is a tough one. His efforts at immigration reform. Too bad he was stymied by people who don’t like Me-hi-co in his party.

        1. So your only criticism of his handling of Bengazi was blaming a filmmaker? The fact that the DOS allowed an Ambassador to be murdered and Obama did nothing to try and catch the people who did it was just a ok with you.

          You need to work on your troll act. Trolling is more effective if you do a better job of hiding that is what you are doing.

          1. ok, sorry, he is not a troll. He is, what he claims to be, a socialist.

            THAT makes him an idiot, and he proves this often with his posts. But give him credit, he does not claim to be other than he is.

            1. He is most certainly an idiot. Calling yourself a “socialist” is about the most effective way I know to self identify as a moron.

            2. MJBinAL|1.21.15 @ 1:42PM|#
              “ok, sorry, he is not a troll. He is, what he claims to be, a socialist.”

              He’s a lefty ignoramus who brags about bailing on his mortgage contract and loves mass murderers.
              There are silly people, obnoxious people, nasty people, and then murderous slime bags like commie kid.

              1. I’m a romantic so the truly great moments in life for me are watching two people meet who truly belong to each other. So I’m all a flutter that you and john have met each other and gotten all hot and lathered in right-wing moron-ville. Awesome. Make sure he tells you about how Matt stone and trey Parker are a bunch of pro-moo-slim pc sellouts. That’s some hilarious shit. Can you guys send me a pic when you fuck each other? I’m a libertarian so I don’t judge.

                1. american socialist|1.21.15 @ 6:04PM|#
                  “I’m a romantic”

                  You’re a nasty, horrible, lying piece of shit.

                2. Wow, homoerotic jokes, that’s risque! Someone’s been watching reruns of Will and Grace.

                  Tell me AM, how many food stamps does a blowjob get you these days? Something to think about after the Koch brothers and the Waltons take your house, your car, and pee on all your good clothes, as those dastardly right winger are always wont to do.

        2. Actually, Bush did more to combat HIV in sub-Saharan Africa than any president in history. No kidding, a lot of people down there love him. They couldn’t give a shit about Iraq or Afghanistan, HIV is priority #1 down there.

          Just a fun fact.

          Personally, I’m not sure what Obama has done right. The one saving grace of the leftists is that they’re supposed to be against adventurist wars, and he failed even in that front. It’s like his goal was to redo all the bad things Bush did, then throw in some pseudo-socialism to make the buttfucking even more awkward.

          1. AS, not AM. Not sure what the M was fore. Guess I thought you might have Meniere’s disease.

    2. I really wish I could just shit in your mouth. Just once.

      1. Talk about coal to Newcastle! LOL

        Like there is a lack of shit in his head now!

      2. Like anon said I couldn’t believe it myself but my cousin made $800 dollars a day shitting in the mouths of socialists on the internet.

    3. Eh, Obama’s speech was very clearly aimed at people who are inspired by political platitudes.

      You know: 12 year olds, morons, etc.

      1. Do people like you ever consider that one can support Obama in contrast to the alternative AND support a 94% tax on income over 1 million dollars.

        I’ve dealt with people that only deal only in absolutes but, you know, mostly those people are idiots, assholes, etc.

        1. 1) Everyone who supports a 94% tax on anyone supports Obama. I’m not sure why you ask that. Maybe they’d prefer Bernie Sanders, but so what?

          2) You’re getting farcical now. Socialists have been sending people they disagree with (people who support freedom of though and speech, and democracy) to concentration camps for a century. Your ideology is a record of one political massacre after another. And here you are accusing others of being rigid and dealing in absolute? Do us all a favor and move to North Korea where you belong. How’s that for an absolute?

  9. The speech was a long list of promises for free stuff, promises that have no hope of passing through Congress. So Democrats can blame the obstructionist Republicans for not delivering the free stuff.

  10. So we’re to get Bush III with even worse policies?

    1. I like to assume Jeb will be dead in the water just due to his surname. May not be fair, but then again he doesn’t deserve a fair shot.

  11. That’s ridiculous. It’d make sense only if he could xfer his popularity to others, and I don’t think even he believes that! Obama didn’t get elected POTUS (probably not even to his other offices) 2ce based on whatever he’s been for or against.

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