Diane Dimond: State of the Union has become nearly meaningless
As a young radio reporter on Capitol Hill, I used to be full of anticipation for the annual State of the Union address. Fresh notebook on hand, I’d dutifully mark the highlights of the speech and plot out what portions to report to the public.
My desk under the Capitol dome was just steps away from the House chamber where the country’s political elite gathered each January to hear the president’s national report card. For a kid from Albuquerque, it was always a heady experience.
Today, at home, I still take State of the Union notes and count the number of times the crowd breaks into applause. Old habits are hard to break.
This year, as in years past, I couldn’t help but note how shallow and self-congratulatory this annual ritual has become. Predictable. Without heft. Fluffy, beginning and ending with a contrivance. The rock star-like presidential entrance. And the prolonged exit from the chamber complete with giddy national leaders pushing forward for a presidential autograph. Our nation’s leaders in full partisan action.
For the record I am — and have always been — a registered Independent. This is not about the person who delivered this year’s speech. It is about the content of these addresses and the calculated feel-good tone they take.
“The shadow of crisis has passed,” President Obama told us. “The State of the Union is strong.” What should we take from such a vague pronouncement?
National security experts must surely still see the potential for crisis as long as religious terrorists threaten American “infidels.” An international crisis could easily erupt if Russia goes for another land grab. And how about the still shaky U.S. economy? Another financial crisis is not outside the realm of possibility.
During the speech there were several mentions about the president’s, “Middle class economics,” and about the lowered unemployment rate. No mention, however, that the average worker’s salary is also down and countless Americans have given up looking for work.
There were references to how many Americans have signed up for health insurance but not a word about the millions who’s insurance was disrupted or made more expensive last year.
Zero proposals were offered to relieve Americans of our massive tax burden. In fact, the president’s new idea for two free years of college will certainly add to the problem.
And there was barely a passing nod to my passion: Issues of crime and justice.
One of the primary functions of our government is to keep us safe. Not only from foreign threats but from dangerous fellow citizens who resort to crime. Yet there was only a passing remark made about, “The events of Ferguson and New York,” two of the most incendiary police-involved incidents of the decade.
No soothing words to calm the populace, diffuse racial tensions or encourage law enforcement to employ better procedures. Just a call to politicians, “Democrats and Republicans … to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.” Blah rhetoric in my book.
We heard a reiteration of the six-year-old promise to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But nothing was said about the more than two million Americans who are incarcerated here — more per capita than reported by any other country. One in three Americans has a criminal record, according to the FBI, and finds it hard to find employment or housing.
No suggestions were forthcoming about how to help the mentally ill, some of whom explode into fits of murderous rage. No ideas to help wean the countless Americans hooked on drugs, some of whom turn to crime to feed their addiction. Nary a mention of how to combat the scourge of human trafficking, gang violence, sex crimes, crippling cyber attacks or mistreated children in the foster care system.
This is a call for the State of the Union speech to get some teeth no matter who the president might be. It is way past time to move beyond this carefully choreographed PR event, designed for the Commander in Chief to pat himself on the back and lay the groundwork for the party’s next election cycle.
We need a more complete picture of the challenges we face as a nation. Americans are mature enough to take the bad news along with the good. Tripping blindly through the new year with no clear roadmap does no one any good.