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Don’t go it alone

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Many words by now have been expended to analyze President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address delivered Tuesday.

Here is a one-word summary of the entire process: tiresome. And this evaluation is not limited to the current president’s approach to this constitutional duty. Presidents going back many years have used the opportunity to try and bolster their popularity in the public’s eye.

That’s not the purpose of the State of the Union. Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution mandates, “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But now the ceremony includes a public recognition of individuals for their commendable deeds. It also features a list of sound bites sure to bring a president’s supporters to their feet in adoring approval while rivals sit stone-faced in their seats registering their displeasure.

It has become political theater of the highest order that actually accomplishes nothing. Everyone already knows what a president’s aspirations are. It’s also known who favors this agenda and who does not.

A proper State of the Union should consist of two features: What are the nation’s greatest concerns, and how can we resolve them?

The president doesn’t even have to deliver the State of the Union in person. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson that State of the Union addresses became public events before joint sessions of Congress. Presidents before him sent their thoughts to Congress in written form, and that was that.

But here we are all wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance. Common sense isn’t going to reverse decades of political showmanship, so we better get used to it all.

The one idea that stood out most about Mr. Obama’s speech was his determination to bypass Congress if need be. The gridlock has become such a problem in Washington that the president is willing to go rogue.

“I’m eager to work with all of you,” Mr. Obama said, according to excerpts of the speech published in Wednesday’s New York Times. “But 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.”

Mr. Obama is proposing to use executive orders when he can to sidestep the legislative process. The president has such authority, but its use must never smack of dictatorship.

Much has been made of Republican extremists in Congress who block measures between the two parties to compromise and get something done. But Democratic extremists have pushed their party so far to the left that common ground is becoming scarce.

Governing from the middle is the best course of action. Yes, the GOP must exert pressure on its extreme wing to be more flexible. But the same goes for the Democrats.

And it is here that Mr. Obama must use the bully pulpit he appears ready to abandon. He must make his case to the American people about the soundness of his policies and urge them to push their representatives and senators to work with him. If he can’t persuade his constituents, this indicates he must adjust his policies — not take his ball and return to the White House to sign executive orders in private.

Whether it’s from the front or from behind, Mr. Obama must lead. He needs to bring the nation and both parties together to accept measures that will improve the state of our union, which is in poor shape. And the only cheering section he should rely on is the American people to get this accomplished.

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