Home > Editorial > Looking For A Sputnik Moment: A State of The Union Analysis

Looking For A Sputnik Moment: A State of The Union Analysis

I’ve only been watching State of the Union addresses for about the past 10 years, but that’s enough to already make me cynical about them. Why? Because I know how they work, and what the main goal of them is.

Essentially, The State of the Union is about where we are as a country, whether it be good, bad, could be better, strong, weak, etc. etc. The content of the SOTU is comprised of the President’s wishlist of things he would like to do to make the country even better. If the country is divided on an issue, he’ll try to bring unity. If he thinks healthcare will make things better, he’ll argue for healthcare. It brings this to Congress because they collectively act as Santa Claus to decide what the President gets off his wishlist. So to bring this the point of the SOTU back around, it’s about proposals. The President gives proposals, by listening to him, Congress decides which proposals they are willing to tackle.

The only problem is that at a best-case scenario, he can only hope to tackle 4 major proposals, thus creating 4 major solutions. Where do I get that number? Because that’s how many two-year intervals of Congress there are. Essentially, the President has a number of political currency, and if he tackles a major solution, he has used all that currency for the two-year term. For his first two-year set, Obama tackled healthcare. After that, he was totally out of political currency, and now has to regain it from the new set of Congressmen, and then hopefully spend it on another issue, if he gains enough currency. Bush for example spent the majority of his currency focused on the middle east. As a result, despite SOTU after SOTU of other proposals, he wasn’t able to do much else. One caveat I should add is that the amount of political currency to get stuff done is a lot more if you have a Congress that is politically against you. For example, Obama will have to gain a lot of currency if he wants to get stuff done for the next two years. Clinton was able to do it to some degree.

Of course, there are just problems and solutions that completely depend on execution and other various not-completely related political factors. For example, Obama can talk about the importance of teachers all he wants, but unless they’re paid to the level of their supposed importance by their institutions, and therefore state, the job of the teachers will become that much harder. But to pay them their wage, you have to fix the economy. And to do that, that requires something short of a major solution. He can talk about getting 80% of our energy in 2035 from clean energy, but there’s a LOT of steps and years in-between now and that goal. In my opinion, if we’re not at that point already, then the Earth will be in terrible trouble. Heck, the world might have ended by then. 2035 is 25 years away. 25 years ago it was a Reagan White House. Yeah, a lot has changed since then.

Let’s take for a moment the sheer amount of everything addressed in the SOTU to sink in. There’s no possible way, even if you had all the political currency in the world, that all this could be accomplished in 8 years. There simply isn’t enough time. You have to draft it, you have to work out all the details, etc. etc. etc.

The State of The Union says a lot of things the President wants to do, but very rarely does even more than a fraction of it actually get accomplished. Whether that makes you depressed, cynical or whatever, it’s just the way things are. That’s how politics works. That’s how humans interaction works.

Overall, while a lot of his proposals sound fine and dandy, State of the Unions should be taken with a grain of salt, since most of them won’t be acted on. As for the speech itself and reaction, it doesn’t seem like anybody was exactly swayed in the way the President was surely hoping for. The next two years will be tough for Obama. I just hope he uses his political currency correctly and tackles the right issues in a logical and bipartisan manner. It will be hard, but here’s a piece of advice that will make the upcoming debates a lot more tolerable and easier: Keep An Open Mind.
Rating: 3/5

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