Shade of the Union

It’s 2015. New year, new you, new State of the Union, new shade of Boehner, new Congress, new… political era?

President Obama’s State of the Union address, the sixth he has delivered since being inaugurated exactly six years ago last night, was his most progressive yet. We are now witnessing the era of activist Obama, with two elections under his belt (because he won both of ‘em! Zap.) and no patience for a gridlocked and do-nothing Congress.

Not only did last night’s speech set the tone for his last two years in office, it will aid in shaping the 2016 campaign rhetoric. With prospective candidates expected to make their formal announcements in the coming weeks and months, it will be hard for them, Republicans and Democrats alike, to ignore the path Obama paved with his call to end partisan politics and establish a more socially progressive society. It’s put them the precarious situation of having to take stances on socially progressive issues that have recently begun to pick up political speed, like LGBT rights in the workplace. It may seem like the work of Captain Obvious that we know our leader’s stances but as anyone who pays attention to campaigns knows, in the world of Washington, the less politicians say, the better. Taking around issues is what keeps some candidates visibly and financially afloat. By putting gender identity (and of course other socially progressive issues) front and center, Obama has backed future presidential candidates into a corner, forcing them to explain to the American people why these issues matter (or not). If anything can be extracted from last night’s address, it’s that we’ve now caught a glimpse into the next election’s campaign issues.

Despite the fact that the administration unveiled a lot of his policy proposals recently- two years of free community college, establishing trade relations with Cuba, closing tax loopholes that prevent the wealthy from paying their fair share- it wasn’t so much about what Obama said, but how and when he said it. We know he’s a champion for middle-class causes, LGBT issues, women’s rights, immigration reform, affordable education and the like, but it was key that he delivered this progressive speech on the heels of a Republican slaughter in the House and Senate. With a GOP-controlled Congress, it’s likely the next two years could be worse than the last. Congress has very much acted like teething newborns in the past- fussy and not even making a dent in the hard stuff. But last night, Obama made it clear that he has ZERO time left to babysit a Congress that cannot see the American people past their own politics.

As much as Obama hopes to turn the bleak tundra known as Washington politics to an evergreen meadow, some things always stay the same, like the GOP behaving badly during his addresses. I imagine Republicans think they are making a statement when they don’t stand or applaud, or when they jeer at his comments, but in actuality they are further underscoring the need for an end to partisan politics when we cannot agree on something as basic as women receiving equal pay for equal work. No, Boehner did not clap or stand when Obama demanded women stop receiving 77 cents to the dollar that men receive for the same work.  Nor did he applaud Obama’s plan to make childcare affordable for the middle class. Nor did he look enthused when the President, during the same week as the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, defended a woman’s right to plan her reproductive future and not have her healthcare and body legislated like public property. One can only glean that either Republicans hate babies and ladies, or they truly believe there is a fiscal and social benefit to maintaining gender and class inequity (hint: it’s a bit of both).

Of course, one can argue that the GOP’s transparent disdain for the President and his administration’s policies, some of which have even been previously proposed by their own (hello, Obamacare!) transcend politics are remain deeply embedded in their party’s historically insidious track record on race. I’ll just leave that right there.

All in all, last night was a political success for Obama, who is so many steps ahead of Republicans that he basically built the staircase. I imagine John Boehner, who last night looked like he was auditioning for a Grumpier Old Men revival, will spend the rest of this week in his tanning bed, ruminating on his mistakes and wondering, how orange is too orange?

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