When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, the speech he delivers could serve many purposes. It will offer an opportunity to jumpstart his presidency, provide a framework for his re-election campaign and convince Americans that he has both the will and a way to restore economic equality for the middle class and those who aspire to join it.
“This State of the Union address has to be more forward-looking by virtue of the fact that it’s happening in the context of a re-election campaign. I expect him to spend more time talking about what he perceives to be his accomplishments, because this is probably going to be the largest or second-largest audience that he’ll have this year,” said George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy.
According to senior administration officials and a preview offered by Obama in a video sent to supporters over the weekend, the speech will outline a “blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” featuring the themes of manufacturing, clean energy, education and American values. It will essentially bookend the speech he delivered in Kansas several weeks ago, in which he called this is a “make or break” period for the middle class, and said that he wants to build an economy “that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.” In the days following his speech, Obama will travel to five states that are important to his re-election bid to promote the ideas he outlines tonight in what could be his last such address.
“With an election looming and the American public badly split, anything is possible, but I think that the president needs to deliver a speech designed to further improve his chances of being re-elected and to address the real problems that the country is facing, and to do so in a manner that would suggest he believes he’s going to be president for another four years,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri).
How voters, who are indeed divided about the president’s overall job performance and generally dissatisfied with his handling of the economy, will respond is uncertain. But if the reaction of House Speaker John Boehner, who called the speech’s themes “pathetic,” is anything to go by, Obama is in for the same-old/same-old with Congressional Republicans in 2012.
Rep. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) told BET.com he hoped the president would focus on corporate tax reform which, Scott says, is one area of common ground between the White House and the GOP. But Obama’s references to tax reform will be something he believes would resonate more with middle-income voters — allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“I’d like to hear about his plans to bring the country together and end some of the divisive behavior that we’re seeing. There is more than one way to get to a solution, but one of the things we’ve got to do more than anything else is to find ways to work together,” said Lakeland, Florida Mayor Gow Fields, who is both African-American and a Republican.
Brian Darling, senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that Obama should use former President Bill Clinton as an example of how to moderate his agenda to work with Congress on issues of common ground. But Darling also is a realist and acknowledges that there aren’t a lot of issues on which Democrats and Republicans can agree. GOP lawmakers, whose obstinacy in 2011 has hurt them in the polls, may try to make it look like they’re trying to work with the president, but it will be all show.
“If Republicans want to make a credible case that Obama doesn’t deserve a second term, they shouldn’t be getting along with him,” Darling said. “If they go along with his philosophies and policies, then they’re going to be enabling him to win a second term.”
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