Tuesday's State of the Union address and the Republican Party responses revealed more about where the country is than where it is headed. Reading the tea leaves leads me to believe that we're in for more of the same.
President Obama's agenda was about the same as last year's. His proposals were characterized as "center-right." They included reforming tax laws to provide incentives for businesses to insource jobs that have moved offshore, and to upgrade the country's infrastructure. He called for pay equality and for more government-business partnerships to spur innovation in high-tech industries.
Obama also stated his desire to stimulate small business creation, to assure equal pay for equal work and to raise the minimum wage. He included plans for high schools to partner with employers and colleges to create programs that "can lead directly to a job and career."
There were no proposals for any grand bargains such as comprehensive tax reform and a federal budget deal, or for Democratic wish-list items, gun control or campaign finance reform. The speech reflected the reality that Obama's political capital is just about spent, and the Republican Party's opposition to any and every proposal the Democrats make, including those they agree with. Some Republicans would even oppose motherhood and apple pie if Obama said he was for them.
Take immigration reform as an example. Both parties are on record saying that action is necessary. Without some steps to fix it, Republicans are at risk of doing to the Latino vote what they did years ago to make more than four out of five African Americans Democrats.
But on Tuesday night, the official Republican response stated their step-by-step solution to immigration reform is "first securing our borders." There was no second step. Just one day after the address, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who at one time supported the idea of a Dream Act, expressed doubt that Congress would act on immigration during the remainder of Obama's term. He questioned whether Obama would support the tough standards Republicans want, or if he would enforce them if they were enacted.
I believe their position comes from their core belief that lawbreakers must be punished. Also, it seems that democratic philosophy, as it applies to immigration, is not to punish children for the acts of their parents. The likely outcome is more gridlock, mostly due to Republican animus toward Obama.
The president made his case for the Affordable Care Act and challenged Republicans essentially to put up or shut up.
The second, unofficial GOP response came from Utah tea party Sen. Mike Lee. He called it "an inequality Godzilla." Whether you support or oppose the ACA, you must agree that the rhetoric coming from the radical right wing is inflammatory and not conducive to bipartisanship - not that tea party Republicans have any intention of cooperating on this or any other of the president's proposals, or even with mainstream Republicans.
That Republicans gave three responses is another indicator of where the country is. There is a deep division between those Republicans siding with the party's leadership and the tea party, which was not satisfied with just one response.
Rand Paul offered his answer to everything - cut taxes and deregulate everything. That must have played well in West Virginia, where the water supply was poisoned from a chemical spill. But I digress.
The Republican caucus is too divided to come up with anything other than "oppose Obama" to agree on. Given that reality, Obama made clear his intention to use the power of his office to move the country toward his goals. He said that if Congress would not act, he would issue executive orders to accomplish what he could.
The first of those orders is to require contractors to pay workers on government contracts a $10.10 minimum hourly wage. Republicans immediately complained of presidential excess and tyranny.
The State of the Union address was the first shot in a year of partisan fighting leading up to the 2014 elections. Let us hope that Congress takes some time off from electioneering to do the people's business.