State of the Union offers little to inspire hope

Settled comfortably into the second term of his presidency, President Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday Jan. 29. He touted the successes of the Affordable Care Act, the country’s environmental record and promised to act unilaterally to address income inequality without interference from a stalled Congress.It was the type of speech that may have roused the nation five years ago. But, taken in the context of Obama’s increasingly frustrating presidency, the speech simply seemed like a desperate attempt to recapture the sense of hope and change the president initially campaigned on. The address took on a decidedly self-congratulatory tone, with Obama trotting out reminders of past successes. The president reminded the nation of his success in withdrawing troops from Iraq, a process completed in late 2011. Almost three years later, he might as well be bragging about killing Osama bin Laden. Obama’s attempt to reassure the nation that “it’s all good” also reached varying levels of desperation. Though he proudly proclaimed business leaders named the United States the best place to invest worldwide, Politico noted that that claim is based on a single survey done by Chicago-based consulting firm A.T. Kearney. A similar report by Forbes put the U.S. at number 14 and the Milken Institute ranked the States at 22. And can the president’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp even be taken seriously at this point? He has been floating that promise since he was a senator. It would be a major victory in closing an ugly chapter of the War on Terror, but given the tumult of the last few months, it would be seen as too little, too late. Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Above all, it is just difficult to look at Obama the same way as one may have five years ago. Where a nation of voters frustrated with typical Washington politics once saw a symbol of change, it now sees a distillation of those qualities. Perhaps the strongest portion of his address, in which he promised a minimum wage of $10.10 for federally contracted employees, included a meager plea to states and businesses to act on their own, saying, “This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend.” As a second-term president, Obama does not have to worry about re-election anymore. Would it really kill him to directly address the poverty crisis happening in America rather than haphazardly hinting at it? It’s not that Obama’s presidency has been a failure so much as it has been disappointing. Though Obama’s promises of hope and change were pretty unrealistic in hindsight, the compromise and stalemate he has had to deal with feel no less painful. The State of the Union address was simply a reminder that when it comes to Washington, you always have to manage your expectations.