*First there was the screwy idea some unnamed GOP House members put forth back in late November to cancel the President Obama’s State of the Union Address.
House Speaker John Boehner quickly said it would not happen. Even bothering to respond to it gave it a dignity that it didn’t deserve. Next there was the ritual attack on it before Obama even tossed out some talking points on what exactly he’d say and call for.
Once he gave the outline of the initiatives he’d propose starting with the common sense proposal to close the gargantuan loopholes that allow some top corporations to pay little or no corporate taxes, and many others to pay rates far less proportionally than the middle class wage earners, GOP critics hit the roof.
There was yet one more ploy to punch back at Obama on the eve of his SOTU address. There was a fresh clamor for Obama himself to cancel the address. Why? It’s a bore. Few will watch it. The speech has already practically been given anyway courtesy of designed leaks, press releases, press briefings, and prior comments by Obama on the very same initiatives he’ll discuss and propose in the SOTU.
And finally, it wouldn’t be the first time a president has cancelled a SOTU, not given it, or simply mailed it in. The list cited includes all the early presidents from Thomas Jefferson on. Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and Richard Nixon in 1973, skipped the SOTU. The critics never fail to accompany their call for Obama to scrap the speech by noting that there’s no legal or constitutional requirement for a president to deliver a SOTU before Congress. The implication is that they do it solely out of a vainglorious need to showboat their administration’s accomplishments and themselves.
The GOP critics would love for Obama to pull a disappearing act with his state of the union address for a simple reason. Despite the declining ratings the speech gets from years past, it is still a widely watched and listened to political speech. It’s a president’s report card on the accomplishments, the present and future planned initiatives of his administration, and his vision for the country.
GOP and Democratic presidents are keenly aware that their Democratic and Republican opponents know that State of the Union Addresses boost the stature, prestige, and power of the presidency, and usually bumps up the president’s approval rating by a point or two. They also know that the opposition’s response to the speech is feeble, pale, and little watched or counted by Americans.
The history of the State of the Union speech underscores the power to shape policy and bolster the president’s image. Obama will do the same by again hammering on the need to take action on his signature issues of immigration reform, defense of Obamacare, tax reform and even gun control. All will draw fire.
The GOP’s attacks on Obama’s State of the Union address are not new. His first State of the Union Address was hardly spared from withering GOP criticism. The GOP harangued him for allegedly lashing out at Republicans. They hit their shrillest level with his second State on of the Union address in January 2010. GOP critics leveled all sorts of absurd charges against him before he even uttered a word of his speech. They did it again in 2012 when former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels ripped him for allegedly being a polarizing, divisive leader. In 2013, the GOP was slightly more restrained and simply accused again him of pushing a liberal agenda and warning that much of his legislative agenda was either DOA in Congress or would face rough sledding.
The GOP though will again add the wrinkle to its dig at Obama this year. It will do it with a woman. Freshly minted Iowa senator Joni Ernst was carefully chosen by the GOP to deliver the GOP rebuttal. The reason is nakedly obvious. She’s a she. The GOP has been shellacked in recent years by the top heavy vote of women for Obama and other Democrats. The rebuttal from Ernst is the party’s crude attempt at a gender image make-over. That’s even more important with the 2016 presidential elections looming bigger in the GOP’s plans to complete its political sweep by taking back the White House then.
GOP leaders have one more reason for trashing the SOTU address before it is even given this year. They now control Congress. By painting it as a partisan, throw down the gauntlet to the GOP speech, this makes Obama seem petty, partisan, and pugnacious, not them. This in effect is the opening salvo in the GOP’s battle plan to hector, deflect and outright torpedo Obama’s initiatives and make him seem all the more partisan while they are doing it.
The 2015 State of the Union address will go on as they have for more than a century. The difference as always is it is Obama giving it. This guaranteed again it would be under fire.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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