Tuesday night President Barack Obama delivers his annual State of the Union message to Congress.
Outside of Washington and the media circus that surrounds it, it isn't really a very important speech. Certainly the president will use it to set out his political priorities for the coming year – which in this administration seem to be the only ones that matter.
As far as policy-making goes the "SOTU" – as people in inside the nation's capital call it – is largely irrelevant. Congress, thanks to the recalcitrance of Senate Democrats is in a perpetual state of gridlock. The president meanwhile is advertising far and wide that he has a pen and a telephone and knows how to use them both. For the uninitiated this means he is prepared to rule by executive fiat if he has to, a parenthetically interesting position for a supposed constitutional scholar and "small d" democrat to take.
In short no one in Washington is talking to anyone else; ergo there is no need for agenda setting. Democrats and Republicans are dug in while the American people suffer. Unemployment still hovers around 7 percent while real unemployment, which includes the people who have dropped off the unemployment rolls because they have given up looking for work is more than double that. No one is any nearer to unravelling the health care mess. The nation's books are awash in a river of red ink and the president doesn't have a plan for dealing with any of it. Instead he's going to talk in his speech about manufactured concepts like "income inequality" as though it were an economically or socially meaningful measure of progress, growth or living standards.
He's trying to create issues that will enable Democrats to win political races in the fall and keep the Congress out of Republican hands for the last two years he is in office. It is not too early to see that this presidency, which began with so much promise, has become almost the opposite of what most everyone hoped it would be. Obama the president has never quite managed to live up to the expectations set by Obama the candidate. The 2014 State of the Union message will ironically drive that point home all too clearly.