One can normally expect a second-term president to take bold initiatives in the country’s interest, with no thought of winning or losing an election. Intriguingly, though, this has not been the case.
Article 2, Section 3 of the US Constitution requires the US President, “from time to time (to) give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”.
There is no set number of such State of the Union Addresses to be given, nor is there any prescribed interval or periodicity governing it. It is within the President’s discretion and judgment, or as and when circumstances make it necessary for him to keep the Congress posted with unforeseen developments.
US President Barack Obama also has started his second term with such an Address to the Congress on February 12. Since no US President can continue for more than two terms of four years each, one can normally expect a second-term President to take bold initiatives in the country’s interest, with no thought of winning or losing an election. Intriguingly, though, this has not been the case, for as far back as I can go. Even second-term presidents have submissively toed their Party line and been staid and bland in the policies proposed by them.
Take Obama, for instance. I should have thought that he would have viewed his highest priority in the present domestic context to be to put an end to the gun culture that has been having the US in its devastating grip for quite some time. It has regrettably been fostered by enabling any US citizen to have unquestioned access to rifles and guns, many of them akin to weapons of war and to massive ammunition magazines.
What was called for was nothing less than a total ban on acquiring and possessing any firearm of any description without a licence from a duly constituted authority. Britain has such a law and is all the better for it. If Britain, which is no less a democracy than the US, can have it, why not the US?
True, the gun lobby in the US is formidably strong and it may not be possible for Obama to rustle up the numbers in both the Houses of the Congress to ram through any root-and-branch legislation. But, he would have at least given a lead to the saner sections of the society by placing on record a package of strict and stringent gun control measures and generating a nation-wide public debate on them.
These could have then become the means of bringing relentless pressure on misguided Congresspersons who have been adopting an obdurate stand either because of the dread of the National Rifle Association or a misreading of the Constitution. Instead, Obama has come up with a neither-here-nor-there insipid litany promising nothing more than background checks to “make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun” and a law “to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals”.
In other respects too, Obama’s State of the Union Address hasn’t set the Potomac on fire. It has turned out to be a balancing act and not a curtain-raiser to bold, new breakthroughs. He has talked of a new tax code purportedly embodying “comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit” but has offered no specifics, but only prolix verbiage that to a professional would seem very inane.
To wit: Helping small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; ensuring billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; lowering incentives to move jobs overseas, and reducing tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.
For the rest, he has waded through topics such as fiscal deficit, medicare, energy availability, climate change, cyber crimes, and even a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. On all of these, the Address brims with generalities.
The net effect achieved is the creation of an illusion of something big being in the offing, but without taking head on the three questions that he posed for himself as constituting the theme of the Address: How does the US attract more jobs to its shores?
How does it equip the people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how does it make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?