President Barack Obama took the pulpit Tuesday night with his usual confidence. Obama highlighted the progress America had made this past year and set forth his agenda for the progress he would like to make in the upcoming year.
“Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations,” Obama said.
While Obama promised this would be a year of action, not all of Boise State was convinced.
Justin Vaughn, assistant professor of political science and presidential scholar, was not entirely convinced of the president’s ability to take action.
“Despite his efforts to communicate that there will be some kind of action, I wouldn’t anticipate a lot of anything happening,” Vaughn said.
Obama claimed to take solitary action on policies he was passionate about such as income inequality, wages, jobs and the U.S. middle class.
“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” Obama said.
Vaughn was doubtful the promise of unilateral action would occur.
“He’s been promising unilateral actions for six years now. He doesn’t have to wait, he could do them any time. He keeps threatening and they tend not to emerge,” Vaughn said. “Will they happen this time? I don’t know.”
While Vaughn was skeptical Obama would even use his executive order, David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy and presidential scholar, was concerned some Americans may have misunderstood what the president meant.
“It’s a powerful claim that he might use his executive order to move things along. It offended some in Congress who probably misunderstood that limited claim was a broader claim that he was now going to resort to unilateral action and encroach upon congressional authority,” Adler said. “He was merely claiming to act within his scope of authority.”
Adler went on to explain that some people might be concerned that Obama was overstepping his boundaries.
“People can differ on whether or not he is exercising authority not granted to his office, but it doesn’t seem to me he is claiming authority to act beyond his limited power to use executive orders,” Adler said.
According to Adler, the State of the Union was a success for Obama and served the Democratic party well.
“It was a political success for President Obama because he was able to cover a lot of political landscape. He was able to call for the hike of minimum wage. It will be a very popular position,” Adler said.
Vaughn disagreed, stating he was disappointed in the lack of detail in the speech and wished Obama highlighted more specific issues.
“I was interested that he didn’t talk much about gun control. It was such a major aspect of his 2013 speech, so that surprised me. He also didn’t hit the inequality theme as hard as I thought he would,” Vaughn said. “Oh, and drugs. He didn’t talk much about drugs. Marijuana has been in the news lately and I don’t think he even mentioned it.”
Vaughn went on to justify why the president might not focus on marijuana legalization.
“I’m not surprised he didn’t talk about drugs more because it’s not going to endear him to many people—but it is a real issue right now. This was a way for him to have his voice heard on this but he chose not to say anything,” Vaughn said.
Media outlets broadcast the speech live while adding commentary and statistics. Some organizations chose to highlight how many Supreme Court justices attended and who Michelle Obama’s guest was. Among other things, some channels had a live feed of tweets about the SOTU.
Vaughn thinks the SOTU has turned into more of a social event than a political one.
“At one point the SOTU was like the Super Bowl. Now it’s more like the Pro Bowl,” Vaughn said. “In the Pro Bowl, they’re throwing balls, they’re tackling and making plays but no one wants to get hurt in the Pro Bowl.”