Wary promises that some members of congress might break tradition and deign to organize themselves in groups not aligned solely to exacerbate our deep cultural divide do little to assuage the sense that the state of our union is anything but strong. No, we're not in Civil War-mode, not really. Heck, I imagine that folks who endured the 60s could point to even more profound fissures in our nation a mere four decades ago. Still, President Obama faces a large and rowdy contingent of lawmakers who seem more indebted to Tea Party bombthrowing than to managing the people's business.
Health care reform (remember that?) is getting wound up for a second serving of anything-goes partisanship. Threats of a government shutdown are echoing through the halls of Congress (as opposed to the plodding of tourists who are now safely isolated from much the Capital Building - another loss to our grim post-9/11 world). And then there are various wingnut committee chairs bent on raining two years of nonstop investigatory fury on a president they'd cheerfully send to a Guantanamo Bay if they could. They presume, I suppose, that all this poison will bleed dry once the other side takes over, that then they'll do half the things they promised their constituents ("Department of Education? Sold to the University of Phoenix. IRS? New headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce!"
Pundits will opine that tonight's State of the Union will mark a major milestone in the Obama presidency - maybe one of those "make or break moments." Yeah. Problem is, they all are. Each speech is a crisp, clear moment of clarity that somehow blurs into the muddy maw of legal wrangling, vicious brinksmanship, pious grandstanding, and guilty handwringing that defines American politics these days. Just how screwed up have things become? Here's a clue: Some people say that Ronald Reagan couldn't get the GOP nomination now; he'd be damned for being too liberal. If that's not a sign that the state of our union is really a mess, I don't know what is.
So good luck, Mr. President. We need it.