(a.) A mess in terms of its politics and the economy.
(b.) Coping despite a depressing lack of leadership.
(c.) Deeply divided with nerves frayed and on edge.
(d.) All of the above and more, much more.
President Barack Obama is unlikely to put it in any of these stark terms tonight. (The answer, of course, is D.)
That said, if the buzz is true and Obama will lay out an agenda that mostly avoids Congress and its dead-end legislating, then he might as well speak so bluntly.
We are almost 10 years past the speech that introduced Obama to the nation. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Obama spoke of bridging the divide between Blue states and Red states. Despite two successful presidential campaigns, our 44th president has not broken through this divide in order to govern, and he has wrinkles and gray hairs to prove it.
“President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American — business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country — in the project to restore opportunity for all,” senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told Obama supporters last week.
In other words, the president is conceding he is largely unable to work with House and Senate Republicans, who have spent the past five years assembling roadblock after roadblock in front of him.
Don’t expect either side to pay a political price for this failure. Supporters on both the right and the left aren’t getting the policies they want, but both have generally kept the other side from gaining serious traction.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but it is. Even as the president prepares to bypass the do-nothing Congress, Republicans and Democrats are lining up their talking points. You see, Republicans will say, this president doesn’t respect the Constitution and the role of legislators. Nope, Democrats will counter, his hand is being forced by a loyal opposition so blinded by hatred it is unwilling to compromise even a little bit.
Back in his famed 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama asked, “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”
While Americans should expect Obama to do his best to offer hope for Americans dreaming of a more perfect union, it will be clear the the politics of cynicism remain a force in 2014.