Editorial: State of the Union

Editorial Board

President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address Jan. 28 in front of a combined session of Congress. To those of us not completely engaged in the politics and pomp of Washington, the annual affair can seem like little more than an extravagant party centered around an hourlong speech, half of which is merely applause.

Last year, Obama took to the stage and spoke on a wide variety of issues, from the then-upcoming sequester cuts and retaining the full faith and credit of the United States to combating climate change and raising the minimum wage.

As most know, the past year has seen the federal government’s agenda derailed by scandal after scandal, something the president could never have foreseen before his address. This goes to show that the State of the Union is not a fixed blueprint of what will transpire but is rather the goals and focus of the president’s administration.

With so much time diverted from what he had apparently hoped to accomplish last year, our disgraceful government shutdown and the resounding failures of Obamacare rollout, we can be sure to hear much of the same points tonight as we did last year.

Climate change and the shift to renewable fuels, for example, remain a relatively untouched issue. Our government has made some advances in curbing our country’s emissions, notably in the form of increased regulations for new power plants. Other issues, however, such as the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada and northern states to Gulf Coast refineries, are still awaiting hard support or condemnation from the executive office.

Gun control, tax reform, immigration and the federal minimum wage are all topics that have likewise been unable to gain legislative traction this past year, despite Obama acknowledging the problems in last year’s address.

Some of this stagnation can certainly be attributed to partisan gridlock in our capital. Edward Klein, bestselling author of “The Amateur” about President Obama, argues however that our current president has more going against his progress than partisanship. Klein and many others contend that Obama himself has failed to lead effectively.

In line with this criticism, calls of Obama as a “lame duck” president have started arising. Rebutting these claims, the Obama administration has said that the president will double down, using the “pen and phone” to both force movement from Congress on important issues and enforce what executive actions he can on his own.

Of course, when it comes to the meat and potatoes of our government, nothing is done in isolation. A divided Congress will still play a major role this year, and the Republican Party will still help in shaping how our country is run.

To respond to the State of the Union, the GOP has chosen Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., its highest-ranking female representative. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, will then give a Tea Party response. While they will receive only a fraction of the coverage or pomp, these speeches could very well be as important as they will outline the goals of Obama’s opposition in Washington.

There is another way to view this event, however.

In addition to these speeches, the White House will be streaming the president’s address live online and will include an exclusive “enhanced broadcast,” likely including relevant graphs, facts, photos and more with Obama’s remarks.

This can all seem like a lot of focus on a single speech, but there is rarely such an opportunity for the entire country to listen in and hear what our highest elected leader has in store for our nation. It may be an hour out of our lives and it may contain a maddeningly high number of applause breaks, but there couldn’t be a better invitation for all of us to become aware and involved in how our government will be run this next year.