President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union address was a study in conflict and contrasts. He said he believes Americans are united in the belief that those who work hard and take responsibility are rewarded, but said that's not happening so the minimum wage has to be increased.
He said America is safer, but wants to let the prisoners of Guantanamo go - and this is the president who doesn't want to go on his own to reform domestic spy data collection.
He said a small force in Afghanistan could be kept on after the troops leave this year to help preserve security, but he failed to allow that to happen in Iraq, which is sliding back into a terrorist-beleagured mess.
Obama has shown a penchant for acting by executive order and defining laws after they're enacted - we're thinking about Obamacare here - but his State of the Union address Tuesday evening was, in the end, just another speech.
It has potential to make a couple of dangerous changes, such as a sweeping change in the minimum wage, but only if Congress joins in.
And Congress tends to be interested in few broad changes during an election year, though surely appearing to give a better standing to people through a pay raise would seem to be great political fodder.
But, absent the long argument about how the minimum wage actually leads only to inflation, which means less buying power, and the loss of jobs, the president's speech really made a lot of go-it-alone references. Yet, a president's actions can be only very small on his own. Raising the minimum wage on future federal contracts will affect only spending to come. Calling together blue-ribbon panels on education and ordering treasury to create new retirement investment options are still non-specific. Saying he will streamline infrastructure red tape is good, but only if Congress can come to terms on a spending package when the transportation funding runs out this year. The issue is that there's not enough money, not red tape.
The arguments over flopping the tax code to force investment in America by corporations has been a non-starter before in Congress.
Issuing a dare on Obamacare and claiming it's something the American people aren't interested in removing ignores a large swath of the American people.
In short, it was a typical State of the Union address, with the actual proof only possible with the participation of Congress, which will be at least partially motivated by making no offensive moves toward the electorate during the mid-term elections this year.
Obama wants a year of action, but we anticipate a year of more of the same.