Barack Obama’s seventh* and final State of the Union address ended not with a bang, but mostly with yawns. The White House had promised an “non-traditional” speech that would mainly dispense with the laundry-list agenda in favor of a grand vision of Obama’s legacy. They also promised a focus on gun violence, complete with an empty seat in the gallery to represent all the victims of firearms homicides who could not make it to the speech.
The chair remained empty … as did, oddly, the focus on guns. The Hill’s Tim Devaney noticed it last night:
President Obama treaded lightly on the issue of gun control during his final State of the Union address, just one week after his teary-eyed announcement that he would circumvent Congress with a series of controversial executive orders.
The president raised the issue of gun violence only once during his hour-long speech, among a list of other policy goals.
“Treaded lightly”? I’ll say. Obama only mentioned guns once in the entire speech, and it wasn’t even a full sentence:
And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.
That’s it — that was the only mention of guns in the entire speech. Obama made no mention of crime at all. He only made one mention of “murder,” and that was in reference to Pope Francis and his remarks to Congress about terrorism. In fact, Obama didn’t even point out the empty chair next to the First Lady.
Given that Obama has made this so much of an issue that just last week he partnered with CNN on a rare non-campaign town hall to focus just on the topic of gun control, it represents an amazing climb-down. After all, a SOTU offers presidents the opportunity to make pretty much any claim they want with no opportunity for timely rebuttals, so it’s practically designed for the kind of demagoguery Obama routinely deploys on this subject. Did that town hall, where several people defended gun rights and seeming put Obama on the defensive, convince Obama that his demagoguery simply isn’t working in this debate? Or did other Democrats make it clear that they aren’t interested in refighting the gun-control battle that seriously handicapped them in the late 1990s and early 2000s?
Like so much of what Obama does with gun control, he overpromised and underdelivered last night on guns.
And that’s pretty much the same overall, too. Obama promised to keep it more brief, but went about as long as his average SOTU. Rather than being “non-traditional,” his final SOTU had the same blend of laundry lists and self-promotion as his other addresses — and to be fair, of any other president’s SOTUs, too. In the last ten minutes or so of the speech, Obama appeared to lose Congress after the laundry list ran out and Obama focused on his legacy. The obsequious ovations petered out, and even his allies in the audience appeared to slump from weariness. Obama attempted to offer a rousing end to the speech by raising his voice to rally them back, but the applause was unremarkable and the reaction dulled. The magic, and Obama’s relevance to long-range politics, had long since dissipated.
* – His speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2009 was technically not a State of the Union address, as newly-inaugurated presidents are not required to give one until after a year has passed.