Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Tuning Out Obama


If you didn’t catch Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, you’re not alone. According to Nielsen ratings, Obama’s hour-long presentation garnered less than 34 million viewers, an all-time low for the president and the “second-lowest rated since Nielsen began recording viewership in 1993.”

Apparently, Americans would rather spend their time watching Simpsons reruns or fiddling with their iPhones than listening to the pompous pronouncements of the Dissembler in Chief.  And good for them. It goes to show that no one really believes that a junior senator with a pedigree in community organizing is setting policy for the world’s only superpower. The idea is ridiculous. Obama is merely the mask that conceals the ruthless machinery of Empire. The real power lies beyond the veil, in the Deep State apparatus which decides everything from drone strikes to Gitmo, from NSA dragnets to habeas corpus,  from deficit-slashing austerity to the “pivot to Asia”. Obama has no say-so in any of these decisions. He’s merely a public relations invention whose job is to look sincerely into the teleprompter while announcing the latest round of budget cuts or more of the deeply-regressive social policies his puppetmasters crave.  That’s his job and everyone knows it.

Only now– judging by the SOTU ratings— he’s even failing at that task.


Because no one’s listening anymore. They’ve tuned him out, which means he’s lost his ability to shape public opinion.  President Snake-oil has become completely irrelevant, a non-factor in advancing elite policy. His presidency is effectively over. Good riddance.

That said, there have been some fine summaries of the SOTU speech that are worth reviewing. The best of these were posted on the World Socialist Web Site whose analysis (as usual) was laser sharp. Here’s a blurb from a piece by Bill van Auken:

“President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech was a cynical propaganda piece, filled with fraudulent claims and promises that no one, least of all his audience at the US Capitol, believes in the slightest.

The annual address has long since become an ossified ritual, a kind of national pep rally into which social and political reality seldom intrudes…..

With Obama’s speech Tuesday night one had more than ever the sense of the president as chief representative of the financial aristocracy that rules America, speaking to a house filled with millionaire congress members and bought-and-paid-for representatives of big business.

It has more and more come to resemble a political echo chamber, in which the ruling establishment celebrates and talks to itself in utter indifference to the needs and concerns of the country’s working people.”  (“State of the Union: A bankrupt ruling class talking to itself”, Bill Van Auken, World Socialist Web Site)

Bravo, Van Auken! “An ossified ritual…. filled with fraudulent claims and promises that no one… believes in the slightest.”

That sums it up perfectly, doesn’t it?

Joseph Kishore, who also writes for the World Socialist Web Site, posted an equally impressive piece titled “Obama’s State of the Union address: An empty and reactionary charade”. Here’s a clip:

“Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday …. was a mixture of pro-business nostrums, militarist jingoism and a jumble of penny-ante proposals. The media’s attempt to promote the speech as a major address on inequality was a deliberate falsification aimed at drumming up interest among a generally indifferent and hostile population…..

(The speech) was a threadbare attempt to cover over the reality of the past year, a year in which the mask fell off a society riven by historically unprecedented levels of social inequality and mass poverty, overseen by a vast police-state spying apparatus, on the verge of another global war of incalculable consequences and presided over by the most right-wing administration in US history…

As has become traditional in such events, Obama singled out individuals in the audience, generally victims of the policies of the ruling class, who are exploited to make various political points. Nowhere was this more sickening than at the end of the speech, when the president heaped praise on a veteran severely maimed by an explosion in Afghanistan.

The assembled congressmen—responsible for wars of aggression that inflicted a similar fate on thousands of Americans, while killing hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis—gave a lengthy standing ovation to one of the victims of their criminal policies. This spectacle was a fitting conclusion to a nauseating political ritual.”  (“Obama’s State of the Union address: An empty and reactionary charade”, Joseph Kishore, World Socialist Web Site)

Both articles are worth reading in full.

Obama’s abysmal State of the Union ratings suggest that the country has turned against him. People don’t trust the president anymore and they certainly don’t want to listen to his lying bullshit for an hour or so. It’s easier just to change the channel … which millions of them did.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future