Thursday, January 30, 2014

Road-Blocked Obama?

President Obama's State of the Union speech was not expansive in its promises, and uplifting only in the form of a few rhetorical cadences rather than specific policy proposals.  In fact, of course, this is about as realistic as he can get, as a second term president facing a hostile House of Representatives and operating in one of the most poisoned and divided political milieu in Washington since the days pre-dating the Civil War. 

The Economist magazine carries a fair-minded assessment of his speech, and a couple of things stand out.  One is that despite his seemingly robust commitment to work around Congress, using Executive Orders if necessary, Mr. Obama has shown in practice a far greater respect for the limits of executive power than his predecessors, signing fewer executive orders in his first term than any president since the second world war.

The second point comes at the end of the article, where the Economist take a quick look back at Mr. Obama's two predecessors in their equivalent State of the Union speeches:

At the equivalent point in his presidency, Bill Clinton was musing on how to spend a huge surplus. A few years later that question was irrelevant. In his fifth state-of-the-union George W. Bush praised the strength of the economy; within three years he was dealing with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. 

Perhaps a less grandiose speech, recognising the limitations of his position and the road-blocks ahead, might just presage a more quietly successful final term than his predecessors enjoyed, for all their grand-standing.


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