Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: State of the Union sets the stage for presidential campaign ahead

The nation is in for interesting times over the next 10 months as we select the next leader of the free world. President Barack Obama attempted to set the stage for the campaign ahead in his State of the Union speech. We look at the hits and misses.

As we look forward to the campaign, did Obama successfully frame the issues? 

Pignanelli: “The president has a great perk. He can deliver a State of the Union address, to encouraging applauses, rather than endure an annual performance review like the rest of us.” — Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune

The State of the Union speech is similar to the Academy Awards. There is tremendous media attention, filled with predictions and analysis, surrounding both events. But afterwards no one recalls — or cares about — what was said.

Mostly, the president did what he needed to do. He reminded critics the poor hand dealt him in 2009 and that the economy has recovered under his watch. Obama excelled in underscoring the unique characteristics of Americans — acceptance of other cultures, entrepreneurial skills, dedication to quality and hard work. He nailed a tough stance against the Islamic terrorists (too bad he didn't exude the same emotion in his post-San Bernardino speech).

Obama provided the right demeanor … until he lectured, and blamed, all Americans for fostering the nastiness in Washington. Every politico was aghast at this indictment. The Obama administration and Democratic Senate and House leadership — during their tenure of absolute government control — built a massive glass house of hostile partisanship, which prevents the president from throwing stones.

While some Utahns might disagree with the president’s initiatives, we all share his deep abiding belief in this country and people. But please don't ask us to recall anything he, or another president, has said during this annual exhibition.

Webb: I liked Obama’s calls for unity, the eloquent picture he painted of the goodness of America and its resourceful people, and his assertion that America remains the world’s greatest country and its best days are ahead. I believe all of that. I liked his stirring call for innovation and a new “moon shot” to cure cancer.

I believe Obama is sincere and really wants what’s best for America. I don’t think he’s an ogre or charlatan. He’s just wrong. Exceedingly wrong. His worldview and underlying political ideology are dramatically different from mine. He believes that a new or bigger government program is the solution to every problem facing America. He believes the federal government should take care of everyone from cradle to grave.

It is notable that nowhere in his articulate speech did he address the supreme menace hanging over this country — a $17 trillion debt that is actually several times worse when various unfunded liabilities are counted. He didn’t address entitlement programs that are headed for bankruptcy. He didn’t suggest pro-growth policies to bolster a lethargic economy, just more spending on government programs.

Obama is a sincere leader, but his eight years will end with America in a precarious state.

While acknowledging problems, Obama painted a rosy state of the union. Are average Utahns as hopeful as he is?

Pignanelli: Obama pleaded for Americans to reject nativist, outrageous assertions made by some in the campaign arena (implying Donald Trump and Ted Cruz). He declared the national debate is how much government intervention is needed to provide fairness in the economy and respect in foreign affairs. Statements made by candidates in both parties confirm Obama’s assertion that this is the essential argument in the 2016 elections. Yet, Americans are hungry for a more sophisticated discussion, and vision, to make government smarter when needed, and absent when not.

Webb: Cloistered in the White House and recently back from a Hawaiian vacation, Obama can’t quite grasp the malaise and exasperation that exists in the country — and that is giving rise to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Certainly, by some measures the economy is better. But so many American families aren’t feeling it. The country is working fine for the favored few. But not for a vast swath of average citizens. Obama’s answer is more government and more entitlements. The real answer is less government, including less corporate welfare and crony capitalism.

Obama called for unity and compromise. Any chance Congress and the country will come together in the year ahead?

Pignanelli: Republicans must have substantial legislative accomplishments to secure election victories in the House and Senate. The president wants a legacy for his final year. So both sides possess deep incentives for compromise. Fortunately for Obama, two masters of bipartisan consensus lead Congress — House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch. Thus, I optimistically predict some major accomplishments.

Webb: It’s going to be a really divisive political year, highlighted by a very ugly presidential election. National politics will be a toxic sewer pit. Thankfully, we will do much better in Utah.