For some reason, people watch the State of the Union Address every year. Personally, even though my job is to cover politics, I find the entire exercise a mind-numbing waste of time. The last State of the Union that was in any way noteworthy was in 2002 when President Bush addressed a nation still smarting from 9/11 and we wanted to hear our President explain whose butts we were going to kick.
Since then, they have been almost entirely an excuse for Presidents to try to boost their standing in the polls by promising things they know good and well they can’t deliver, either realistically or politically. No President has been worse about this than Obama, who alienated the entire Republican caucus by declaring, on almost the first day of his Presidency, “I won,” and ensuring that he would never accomplish anything of substance with their consent again.
Since then, Obama has been spending each and every State of the Union repeatedly promising to deliver things he knows that Republicans in Congress will block, knowing full well that Republicans will block him. Here are just five of the things Obama has promised to do more than once in his State of the Union address, and not yet done.
1. Close Gitmo
Obama explicitly promised to close Guantanamo Bay in 2009, but at the behest of Democrats stopped beating this drum in 2010. It’s a promise he reiterated in 2014 and 2015 in the State of the Union, and the media is dutifully repeating that Obama plans to renew his push to close Guantanamo in this year’s State of the Union address. If you’re keeping score at home, Obama has promised this at least three times before, and has repeated the promise over the span of his entire Presidency. Expect several Democrats in Congress to applaud like seals when he promises to do it yet again tonight.
2. Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Perhaps none of Obama’s promises has been more cynically used as a wedge than his promise, reiterated every year, to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Congress only got even relatively close once, and Obama knows now that his chances of seeing it pass this year are slimmer than they ever have been. However, the panderbots who run his speech making team have told him that this is a drum he needs to keep beating in order to foster the racial division that animates the modern Democrat party, so expect to hear it again.
Then in the next breath, expect to hear him bemoan the political divisions in this country.
3. Pass Campaign Finance Reform
Of course, the real problem here is that Obama does not (allegedly) like a Supreme Court decision interpreting the First Amendment. So there is not really anything Congress can do, at least as far as separation of powers has traditionally been understood in this country until the reign of Obama the I, to “fix” a Supreme Court decision. That has not stopped Obama from calling upon Congress to do that in 2010 and 2012, knowing full well that Congress would not do anything about Citizens United, even if it could.
But hey, some functionary in Barack Obama’s political operation suggested that it polled well, so Obama used the opportunity to kick a political football while all the television networks were basically obligated to put him on television. Then he went out and spent over $730 million on his 2012 campaign.
You would think that Obama would be embarrassed by this, but instead he apparently plans to do it again tonight.
Sounds like this speech will really be worth your time already, right?
4. End the war in Afghanistan
Updates on the status of the war in Afghanistan, together with vague promises to end the war soon, have been a staple of Obama State of the Union speeches since his inaugural year. However, in 2013, he got specific, saying that the war in Afghanistan would be over by the end of 2014. In the 2015 State of the Union Address, he bizarrely claimed that our “combat mission” in Afghanistan was over, it’s just that our military will still be there shooting and being shot at for the foreseeable future. Now here we are in 2016 and Obama has admitted that U.S. combat troops will be in Afghanistan through at least the end of 2016, at which point the decision of how many troops will be in Afghanistan will be entirely up to his successor.
Determining the troop levels in Afghanistan is one of the few things, Constitutionally, that is as much within the President’s power as he believes more or less everything is within his power. And yet, instead of actually withdrawing all U.S. Troops from Afghanistan, expect more vague promises tonight to do it at some point in the future, or just flat out lies about the activities they are involved in there so that we hopefully all believe they are just over there building really expensive gas stations all the time, or something.
5. Crack down on companies that move jobs overseas in blatantly unconstitutional ways
Since 2010, Obama has promised in almost every State of the Union to take actions to prevent companies from moving jobs overseas that have been a) absurd and/or b) blatantly unconstitutional. In 2010, for example, Obama promised to “end tax breaks” for companies that moved jobs overseas, a move that would not have worked, and which he knew had no chance of passing. He promised last year to end the practice of “inversions” – a promise that he knew was legally impossible without exceeding the jurisdiction of the United States, not to mention the constitutional authority of the executive to set tax policy unilaterally. Obviously, this has not come to pass.
Interestingly, Obama has only once hinted at an actual action that might be taken to prevent companies from moving jobs overseas, when he encouraged Congress to reform the corporate tax rate to make the United States less hostile to business in 2011. Since then he has barely (if ever) mentioned this badly needed reform and has applied no pressure to Congressional Democrats to work with Republicans on a compromise solution.
With all this added up, I know I’m just dying to hear promises that a) the President has already repeatedly promised before and b) which I know by now are never going to come true. That’s definitely worth your time way more than finally finishing Narcos on Neftlix tonight.