State of the Union addresses are more about political theater than implementing public policy. They are oratorical smorgasbords brimming with grandiose ideas that have little chance of advancement, especially in the current political climate of the nation's capital.
President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union address delivered before Congress on Tuesday night was just such an address.
Displaying his undeniable rhetorical ability, the president offered lots of big ideas and hopes for the future that generally ignored the practical detail of getting them through a sharply divided Congress that represents a sharply divided nation.
Obama advanced ideas about job creation, education improvement, immigration reform, tax code revision and raising the federal minimum wage as a means of spurring the nation's economy. He even warned the usually deadlocked Congress that he would push his policies either with them or in spite of them, promising to use executive orders where he could to make those policies a reality.
While Obama said he is eager to work with Congress on his ideas, he also said, "(B)ut America does not stand still -- and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."
It was a promise -- or threat, depending on one's perspective -- clearly designed to take advantage of woefully low public satisfaction ratings with the Congress.
To prove his point, Obama detailed a new executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers employed through new federal contracts that will raise from $7.25 for those workers to $10.10 an hour by 2015.
Following the speech the theatrical turned toward the absurd as not one, not two, not three, but four Republicans offered rebuttals to the president's message. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, delivered the official response, but there were also commentaries from libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tea party stalwart Rep. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and a separate speech in Spanish from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The GOP said it represented the broad voices within the party, but it appeared to us more a chaotic manifestation of a fractured party that could not come together to respond to the leader of the opposition party.
Rising GOP star McMorris Rodgers offered an upbeat response that blamed middle class struggles on Obama and his policies.
"Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president's policies are making people's lives harder," she said.
Although the oratory was impressive, it remains that 2014 is a congressional election year and that little reality usually does not bode well for bold initiatives or grandiose ideas, regardless of how skillfully they are presented.