One way of measuring a president's agenda is by what he highlights in his State of the Union address. Another is by noticing what got left out.
What didn't make the cut? At least three items:
A “grand bargain”: For three years, Obama pursued a big fiscal deal that would have traded higher taxes (a Democratic goal) for cuts in long-term spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (a Republican goal). But with the federal deficit slowly shrinking, members of
King Canute: In a different vein, an early draft of this year's speech would have had the president denounce wage stagnation, stalled social mobility and income inequality, and then declare: "Our job is to reverse these tides." But that sounded uncomfortably close to the story of King Canute, the 11th century Danish ruler of England who famously commanded the tide to stop. (It didn't.) Historians say Canute wasn't mad; he was trying to show his courtiers that the king's power had limits. That's true about Obama's sway over income inequality too, but that probably wasn't the point the president wanted to stress. In the final version of the speech, Obama said he hoped, instead, to "reverse these trends," a much blander phrase — to the disappointment of columnists and historians alike.