Its probably wise not to get too worked up about any State of the Union speech, and this years was especially inoffensive. Or, if you prefer, refreshingly so.
President Barack Obamas fifth State of the Union encompassed the typical presidential wish list. What was most striking about the speech, however, may have been its tone: smooth, pleasant, non-confrontational. Almost as if Obama was enjoying himself.
The standard outraged partisan reaction, delivered as usual before the speech, seemed especially lame this year. The most serious objection – that the presidents expanded use of executive power sets a dangerous precedent – would be worth consideration if Obama were usurping congressional powers.
But much of what hes doing is almost laughably inconsequential.
True, Obamas move to set new environmental regulations is potentially consequential, and the White House has pledged to make 2014 a year of executive action. Yet Congress has similarly promised more attentive oversight, and the Supreme Court is considering a case about the presidents right to make appointments during congressional recesses. Its hard to argue that the system of checks and balances isnt working.
At any rate, its not as if Obama is ignoring Congress. He acknowledged that much of his agenda depends on the legislative branch: ones funding transportation projects, giving him authority to pursue trade deals, reforming the patent system, protecting voting rights, extending unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage. All are worthy. Half a handful are likely to reach his desk.
Still, Obama was shrewd in highlighting ideas that House Republicans may actually support, or at least find difficult to oppose.
Obama and the current Congress do not exactly have a productive history. If there is ever to be any cooperation, however, Tuesday nights tone can only help.