I have to be honest: I watched the State of Union on digital video recorder so that I could fast-forward through the clapping, and get straight to the part where Joe Biden starts cracking open Natty Lights under the podium. While it was on, I drank most of a bottle of red wine and watched reruns of The Big Bang Theory. To be honest, I almost forgot the event was even on, since I haven’t watched basic cable in years. But alas, I work for a political publication, so I am forced to endure, at least, a partial viewing of our nation’s most time-honored, nonessential tradition: a one-hour presidential tribute to himself.
For starters, a depressing fact: this may not be President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address. It’s so early this year (far earlier than it has been in other years of Obama’s presidency), in part because networks are looking to air new episodes of shows earlier (ABC was forced to delay the premiere of Agent Carter for two weeks, lest it field complaints from angry fans that their show had been pre-empted by a man in a suit droning on about economics), but also in part because the White House wanted the speech to air before the primaries began. If the speech is scheduled for the same time next year, Obama could easily give one final extended goodbye before the new president takes over, and it wouldn’t even be unprecedented. Jimmy Carter tried to pre-empt Ronald Reagan by sending his final State of the Union to Congress right before Inauguration Day, and President Obama is nothing if not a less-careful version of Jimmy Carter. So, you have that to worry about.
But, fine, without further ado: five things you might have missed if you were too drunk/too bored/asleep/watching Netflix during last night’s State of the Union:
- Despite tradition, Obama made a number of policy proposals: In case you were wondering whether Barack Obama intends to take it easy in his last year in office, you can dispense of that fear right now. With just 11 months left on the calendar, Obama is going to do everything from cure cancer* to ending our dependence on fossil fuels, to saving Medicare and Social Security, to encouraging the nations of the world to join together in a rousing version of “Kumbaya” on the White House lawn. He hasn’t managed to pass any signature legislation since 2009, and even his last proposal on gun control was an anemic effort at increasing enforcement of a dead law more than anything else, but hey – why the heck would you not have an increasingly ambitious agenda to close out your presidency? There’s still plenty of time for executive orders!
- Despite that gun control push last week – and an empty chair for victims of gun violence – gun control was all-but-absent from the president’s speech: Here’s one I didn’t even catch: so much was made of gun control in the lead-up to the president’s address, that I thought for sure, we’d have at least 10 minutes on the subject, particularly as the first lady gave up her guest to provide the media with a great opportunity to drive the point home, panning over the empty seat. But the president only talked about guns once, and even then, in the most neutral way possible, claiming that he would “protect our kids from gun violence,” in the context of things like “equal pay for equal work” and other nonsensical legislative ideals he’s pushed since the beginning. It’s strange, really, because he could have shed a few tears last night – the media would have called it an “emotional final address” – and he would have had no direct opposition. Could it be that gun control is such a losing issue for moderate Democrats that a nation of basic cable users wouldn’t be treated to an extended lecture on the constitutional intricacies of the Second Amendment?
- Obama singlehandedly solved the Middle East crisis, because of course he did: Last night, the president took what can only be considered a “victory lap” on the Middle East, basically saying that he’s made everything safer, that we’re just imagining the rise of murderous Islamic thugs across the continent and that Iran has gone to such great lengths to dismantle its nuclear program that you can now buy plutonium on eBay for less than it costs for a new clock radio. Meanwhile, Iran arrested (and, thankfully later released), 10 US soldiers and impounded a Navy vessel, claiming an incursion into their waters, and once the soldiers were safe, John Kerry personally apologized and thanked the Iranians for helping a Navy vessel in need, as pictures emerged of American soldiers kneeling to Revolutionary Guards at gunpoint. So, it seems less like we solvedthe Middle East crisis and more like we’re just not that into it anymore.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Obama is also responsible for the lower fuel prices, though those are generally attributable to the fact that crews are now pulling oil out of the ground in North Dakota so fast that area strippers have called in reinforcements for the burgeoning entertainment workload (not a joke – there’s a shortage of women in the huge work camps now dedicated to the Dakota operation), and that the Saudis have stepped up their production just to prevent their immense wealth from deteriorating.
- Obama also totally saved the economy, you guys: This is a good one – despite median wages and full-time employment being at an all-time low, despite health care costs skyrocketing out of control, despite fixed investment being down, despite stagnating economic growth and despite having almost no responsibility in swinging the stock market, the president believes that he single-handedly pulled America out of a recession, and anyone who says otherwise is peddling lies. That’s cool; no biggie.
- It was really, really boring: I’m not going to lie. States of the Union are always boring. That’s why people drink during them. This one was more boring than most, and I don’t know if that’s because I’ve gotten so used to the system that I can now fall asleep to the lilting tones of our president explaining the need for intrusive legislation, or because Obama has pretty much given up on everything and is just looking forward to perfecting his golf game in Palm Springs for the rest of his life.
Congress seemed less than enthusiastic, the president seemed less than enthusiastic and the first lady seemed so uninterested, she only wore a $600 Narciso Rodriguez shift to the event, rather than the thousand-dollar suits she’s donned in the past. Even Gov. Nikki Haley, who did a phenomenal job delivering the GOP response, was kind of more interested in annoying Donald Trump supporters than she was in countering the president’s lame duck agenda. But hey, it’s an election year, it’s time for everyone else to make the empty promises, I suppose.
And so, we’ve (hopefully) faced the final curtain. Next year, when President Trump delivers his first address to the joint session of Congress shortly after his Vegas inauguration, we can look back on these times fondly and laugh. Unless we’re being deported.