Last week, President Obama performed one of his annual duties by delivering his State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress. Democrats and Republicans, Senators and Representatives, and even common voters looked on as he touted some of his major accomplishments from his first term. But, after seeing so many of these in the past resulting in little action from Congress, particularly those from President Obama, one must wonder, is the State of Union Address just a formality now or is it worth all the attention it receives?
Just a year ago, President Obama garnered almost 40 million viewers on the night of his annual Address. This year, he only captured 33.5 million. And while over 30 million viewers sounds like a major accomplishment, it is the downward trend that seems striking. Could the deadlock in Congress be causing viewers to cast their sights on other, more riveting events?
President Obama gave soaring oratory regarding universal preschools, immigration reform, and medical care. But, the most riveting portion of the speech came when the President discussed a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was killed in a Chicago park while seeking refuge from the rain. Her killer was a single assailant who escaped in a vehicle. Hadiya had just performed with her school at the President’s second inauguration just weeks before. For almost ten minutes, he made a very deliberate appeal to the body present to take up a vote on the type of gun violence that abruptly ended the life of Pendleton and countless others.
Stories like that of Pendleton’s are far too common. And, while the President used that rhetoric to weave into discussions on voter rights issues and immigration reform, his words were still met with substantial opposition by Republicans. Usually delivering one well-timed response, there were two responses this year. The official response came from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL); and, a secondary response came from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
Sen. Paul’s response was in line with Tea Party standards of cutting government and funding to social programs, while Sen. Rubio gave a run-of-the-mill Republican response which contradicted its stand on Medicare and the President’s general policies. But, the most poignant few seconds he had were when he decided to reach the unreachable. No, I am not talking about policy. I am talking about a tiny little bottle of water positioned five feet off-screen. And, he was quite thirsty.
Sadly for Rubio, the mass media’s focus turned directly to his gulping mishap and away from anything he had to say in the response. But, maybe it underscores the lack of meaning for this whole thing anyway.
No one can deny that the President’s goals and objectives seem monumental, challenging, and even a bit unrealistic considering his opposition. But, regardless of the delivery or perceived soundness of his principles, the decreased interest in the Address itself could be indicative of a general disinterest in politics at all. And, that disinterest is likely driven by the brinksmanship and posturing from Congress. If that is indeed the case, the President’s speech could mean little more than an unheeded sermon.
If no real policy initiatives or formal votes emerge from this year’s lesson in oratorical theater, would that undermine the entire ceremony in and of itself? I would say so. So, let’s just stay tuned to see what develops. We may be witnessing the end of an FDR originated DC relic.
Watch the full address below.
Want to watch Senator Rand Paul’s Tea Party Response?
Featured photo credit CBS.com