A nation in neutral; Obama's SOTU offers little reason for optimism.
It is sometimes best to let a political speech sit around for a while before passing judgment, to see whether some theme emerges that resonates with the American people and the Congress. That is particularly true of the State of the Union address, which has become a wearying checklist of causes, issues, policy initiatives and personal vignettes.
President Obama's address last Tuesday fit that pattern. His seventh such address, comprising nearly 6,500 words, left no topic untouched as he sought political traction in the wake of the stern rebuke delivered to his party by voters in November.
We hadn't expected much, but the tone still surprised us. Mr. Obama chose to take the offensive against Republicans, threatening vetoes on a variety of issues, and reiterating his call for higher taxes and more government goodies.
His previous six State of the Union addresses offered much the same. What Mr. Obama could not achieve in six years isn't likely to be achieved in two more.
If November carried any message, it is surely that a new approach is needed for a nation stuck in neutral.
Economically, the nation may be in recover, but it is one marked by historically low participation in the labor force and stagnant wages. One bright spot, burgeoning energy production, has come in spite of Mr. Obama's policies.
Socially, race relations have soured, with nationwide protests and sharp divisions exacerbated by a White House overly eager to insert itself into every conflict, even before the facts are known.
Internationally, U.S. influence and prestige are in retreat, with unrest roiling the Middle East and Africa, as the Islamic State and Boko Haram run rampant, and Russia tightening her grip on portions of a once-sovereign Ukraine with impunity.
Is there some possible path to a stronger American union before the 2016 elections dominate the political landscape?
Perhaps. But that path will have to go through Congress, and specifically through what remains of the political center, which must now assume the mantle of leadership from an executive branch that has clearly run out of useful ideas.