After the State of the Union address last night, I asked myself, "Where was that President Barack Obama, say, three years ago?" He was clear, passionate, and engaged. Stylistically, I thought it was his best SOTU address.
Unlike his 2013 address, where the president made 42 recommendations only to see Congress pass three, he spoke to where America was, but more importantly, he set a course for where the nation could go.
Rhetorically, the president shrewdly used General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the daughter of a factory worker; House Speaker John Boehner, the son of a bartender; and himself, the son of a single mother, to illustrate that America remains a land of opportunity.
It did not feel like a campaign stop in a battleground state; I felt for the first time like I was hearing from the commander-in-chief.
By utilizing immigration and minimum wage, he may have set the tone for debate for the upcoming midterm election.
With the economic wind at his back, the president exuded confidence rarely witnessed outside campaigning.
The president reminded the nation that economic progress is occurring, though not at the pace that most would like. The lowest unemployment rate in five years, the rising housing market, a decrease in the deficit, and an increase in manufacturing jobs and consumer confidence are hopeful signs.
I wished the president had given more than a glancing nod to infrastructure improvements. The need is great and could place many Americans in good paying jobs.
My primary criticism of the president has long been his inability to effectively communicate, which should not be equated with being an effective public speaker.
An effective speaker, through titillation, can sway people emotionally. Though useful, especially during a campaign, effective public speaking tends to have a short shelf life. This is an acute shortcoming for any president governing in a 24-hour news cycle that is susceptible to placing more emphasis on the sensational than on the essential.
But a good communicator has the ability to convey ideas that can be infectious among the public at large. It is impossible to govern 300 million people on actions alone; it could only be achieved through meaningful rhetoric.
An example of effective communication was witnessed at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, when former President Bill Clinton gave a successful nominating speech for the president, who subsequently dubbed him "The Secretary of Explaining Stuff."
The problem that I have with last night's SOTU address is that it came three years too late. The president's inability to communicate has allowed House Republicans' obstinate behavior to become a viable political strategy, for which they may be rewarded in the midterm elections.
The president made it clear that he would use the power of the Oval Office to fight on behalf of the American people, even going around Congress, if necessary, by using executive orders. That's commendable, but he is 10 months away from being officially characterized as a lame duck president, if not already.
As far as the Republican kerfuffle over the president's use of executive orders, President Obama has issued fewer such orders than any president in more than a century.
It required Republicans in Congress demonstrating a six-year commitment to not working with the president, shutting the government down, and damaging the full faith and credit of the United States for him to find his voice.
Finding one's presidential voice is that moment when one is not beholden to polls or politics but is willing to act because he believes what he is doing is in the best interest of the American people, regardless of the consequences. Is it effective if it is realized only after one reaches the brink of political unimportance?
So the philosophical question remains: If it takes six years before the president finds the moral authority to act, does anyone care?
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