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Obama’s 2016 SOTU: As Inspiring as a Grocery Store Shopping List

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Tuesday, January 14, 2016, Barack Obama delivered his eighth, and final, “State of the Union” (SOTU) speech.  In doing so, he fulfilled the constitutional requirement that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”  Consti., art. 2, sec. 3.   

Barack Obama is a gifted orator.  It was his ability to inspire with his rhetoric, his ability to orally convey his thoughts and feelings, that lifted the one-time Chicago community organizer to the highest political office in the United States.  His televised 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention made him an overnight political sensation.  Columnist David Brooks gushed about the speech: “This is why you go to conventions, to watch a speech like this.” His co-pundit, Mark Shields, said, simply, “A star is born.”

So what happened on January 12, 2016, when this talented and articulate politician delivered his final State of the Union speech to the people of America?  Where was the inspiration? Where was the eloquence?  Where was the brilliance?   Where was the motivation?  Where was the vision?

President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union was – at best – bland, dull, and ordinary.  It was as inspiring as a grocery store shopping list.  It had a few political clichés, a handful of platitudes and bromides.  But it lacked content.  It was filled with political “empty calories” not real nourishment.

The key defect in the 2016 State of the Union was the lack of vision.  Sadly, that has been the hamartia, the fatal flaw, in the American executive, especially in U.S. foreign policy, for the past seven years. 

President Obama is a poet, not a builder.  He is a dreamer, not a leader.

In his 2016 State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke of bipartisanship – but after seven years of severely partisan politicking in the Oval Office, those words sounded like the mere tinkling of cymbals.  The flaw is President Obama’s ego-centric view of political cooperation.  His vision of bipartisanship is one in which his agenda on the substantive issues controls, with a few insignificant garnishes on the side for those who do not share his views. 

Barack Obama’s strengths have become his weaknesses.  His ability to inspire his partisan supporters has become an obstacle to his effective working with persons with other views. He does not know how to deal with opponents who are not persuaded by his rhetoric and charisma. He does not know how to compromise.  Indeed, he seems to consider compromise as failure.

The 2016 State of the Union speech provided no vision of conciliation to match the President’s rhetorical call for reconciliation.  No path of mutual concession was described that might lead to principled collaboration. He listed his policy priorities – immigration reform, gun control,…

 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
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