Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver the first State of the Union address in his second term. During this address, the president will outline his plan for the next four years of his administration – and emphasize that the union remains strong, but much work needs to be done. After much ado, clapping, and ceremony, the first shots of the 2016 presidential campaign will be fired across the Democratic Party’s brow by GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Tea Party favorite Senator Rand Paul.
Is this speech important? Despite what fellow PolicyMic editor Mike Luciano describes as “an evening full of clichés and BS,” absolutely – but not for the reasons you think. The State of the Union has evolved over the years from mere pageantry to an elaborate signaling ceremony, replete with hints and indications as to the president’s mindset, strategy, and plan. Similarly, the reaction to tonight’s address – especially the speeches given by Rubio and Paul – will show what the new leaders of the GOP, and two of their most prominent contenders for 2016, are thinking.
Does this speech change anything? From a policy standpoint, that seems very unlikely. What you’ll glean from tonight’s address is a look into why the State of the Union is essentially a giant, meaningless soapbox: which interest groups each speaker is trying to steal, which organizations or platforms are losing favor, which voting bloc needs to be massaged or put at arm’s length. The dueling GOP speeches will highlight the really important political event going on right now: the civil war brewing in the Republican Party between "moderate" Republicans desperate to avoid being voted out in the next election and Tea Party hardliners determined to use their majority in the House to grind Obama's second term to a halt. That dispute will prove more critical to the future of the country – and 2016 – than anything the president says tonight.
Expect the president to put forth a forceful, legacy-setting agenda for his second term; similarly, expect that agenda to likely fall to the mire that engulfed his first term, unless the GOP manages to accelerate its imminent self-destruction by resorting to civil war over ideological purity and political theater.