In his sixth State of the Union address, President Obama called for a "year of action," but 2014 is more likely to be a year in which voters ratify gridlock.
Listening to Obama's sometimes meandering, sometimes inspiring speech, one thought would not leave my mind: Words are not enough to undo the damage done by six years of ceaseless vitriol and obstruction from the right. When, for instance, he said, "Climate change is a fact," I had no doubt that a majority of the Republicans in the House chamber were thinking, "Who says?" When the president said he would push for measures to deal with the plague of gun violence "with or without Congress," there was no question that it would be "without."
A central theme of the address was the growing gap between America's richest citizens who keep getting richer and the far more numerous middle class and working poor whose incomes continue to stagnate, if not decrease. The president declared that closing the income gap and spreading opportunity is "the defining project of our generation." Republicans, though, still see their defining project as cutting taxes, protecting big business and hacking away at government programs for the poor and unemployed.
Obama said he was ready to single-handedly take on the big problems through executive action. "America does not stand still, and neither will I. So, wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."
Nice sentiment, but, as much as it would be fun to see the president as an action figure leaping over the barricades of his foes in Congress, the problems facing the country are simply too big to be swept away by one man. The president is powerful, but he does not have superpowers. He needs Congress to work with him, not against him.
That will not happen very often in this election year, and the prospects for Obama's final two years in White House are even worse. As things now stand, Democratic hopes of retaking the House are melting faster than a snowman in a sauna while a Republican conquest of the Senate appears likely.