by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama played it safe with Tuesday night's State of the Union Address -- so safe that experts said his proposals are unlikely to help a struggling middle class.
The president's address focused on smaller, piecemeal solutions to high unemployment and wage stagnation, the most talked about being a minimum wage increase.
But that would do little to help the middle class, as few Americans earn minimum wage, experts noted.
Indeed, in a study published in July, the Pew Research Center found that 4.7 percent of the nation's 75.3 million hourly-paid workers and 2.8 percent of all workers earn a minimum wage income. That is down drastically from 1979, when they represented 13.4 percent of hourly workers and 7.9 percent of all wage and salary workers.
"By focusing the nation's attention more on the band-aid minimum wage increase -- and making only cursory mention of more permanent solutions, such as the specific loopholes he would close and tax code revisions he would make -- Obama missed an opportunity," CNN columnist LZ Granderson wrote Wednesday.
"That's not to suggest an executive order to raise the minimum wage won't help people; it will. But to change the dynamic that has kept wages stagnant since President Reagan, it's going to take something big. And for all of the big talk about income inequality from Democrats, President Obama's address presented very little in terms of specific ideas," he contended.
So why did Obama play it safe Tuesday night?
One reason is that his strained relationship with Congress presents him with few options, as Republicans are unlikely to pass any major legislative overhauls the president proposes.
Indeed, the president has made few inroads with lawmakers and many Republicans are wary of working with him for fear of angering their conservative base. And that is why the president has decided to focus on enacting legislation via executive order.
"That is all he can get via this Congress, at best, or via executive action," Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, told Xinhua, referring to why the president proposed no major legislative overhauls.
"The reality is that the environment won't allow for much, so President Obama, the pragmatist, is trying to find ideas that might actually have a chance and make a difference for the middle class," he said.
Moreover, playing it safe may be an easier way to galvanize his Democratic base in the run-up to the 2014 Congressional elections.
Paul Ferber, professor of political science at Rochester Institute of Technology, told Xinhua that most ideas Obama pushed Tuesday night were issues that Democrats would get on board with, as the party needs to remain unified for the elections.