Michael Gerson: The president has a thin agenda

Published: Friday, Jan. 31 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

What does his fifth State of the Union say about the president? There is the natural, appropriate humility of the second term. But that adjustment has a particular poignancy in Obama's case. A president elected to pursue an ideology — say, a new Democrat or a compassionate conservative — can downsize his domestic agenda to fit the political moment. But a president elected to transcend partisanship, heal the planet and slow the rise of the oceans has a longer fall. Obama's appeal has always been more personal than ideological. And when that personal appeal fades, as it naturally has, there is little left to unite his agenda — leaving the disconnected set of proposals and gestures we saw on Tuesday night.

Obama probably found a political message for the coming midterm elections: "Give America a raise." But it does not give his presidency a theme or a theory.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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