President Obama will deliver his most important speech of his presidency and indeed his campaign tomorrow night in his State of the Union address and will adopt populist economic rhetoric that he’s been polishing over the past few months and use it to frame his re-election campaign in front of an expected 50 million T.V. audience.
It will be the president’s best chance to make a case for a second term, the prime-time speech carries enormous political stakes for the Democratic incumbent who presides over a country divided about his performance and pessimistic about the nation’s direction.
The speech will merge what he wants to say in the campaign with what he wants to do. He’s going to be, as Truman did, attacking Congress as the ‘do nothing Congress,’ and certainly it’s total dysfunctional. House Speaker John Boehner signalled Sunday that he’s ready for the fight. “If that’s what the president is going to talk about Tuesday night, I think it’s pathetic,” the Ohio Republican said yesterday on Fox News Sunday.
The annual report by the president, required by the U.S. Constitution, has grown more political as presidential contests have kicked off earlier. State of the Union speeches, for presidents seeking a second term, are campaign tools.
President Obama ran for president in 2008 denouncing Washington’s climate of ultra partisanship. Yet months of halting and mostly failed efforts in 2011 to craft bargains with Republicans on the budget leave the president, as his aides see it, with little choice but to make 2012 a year of drawing sharp contrasts with his rivals.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is “terrific opportunity for the President to describe his vision for where he believes this country needs to go for its economy, as well as for its security.” Carney suggested that the President will propose a full legislative agenda, despite the fact that this is an election year.
President Obama previewed the speech in a webcast saying: “Rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded — and an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”
Obama isn’t likely to get major initiatives enacted before the November election that will decide the presidency and control of the House and Senate.
Aside from the opposition from Republicans, who now control the House, Obama’s agenda will be constrained by a lack of room for new programs in the budget. Last year’s deficit of $1.3 trillion, about matching the figure from 2010, was third-highest deficit as a share of the economy since 1945.
While he didn’t give specific proposal, Obama said the address will be a “blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last” through supporting manufacturing, energy development and education and training.
The Republican response will be delivered by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. House Speaker John Boehner said Indiana can claim a balanced budget, a AAA credit rating and recognition by Chief Executive magazine as the sixth-best state to do business.
Since congressional Republicans thwarted a $447 billion package of tax cuts and spending he proposed last September, Obama has embarked on a series of speeches across the country that focus on executive actions designed to create jobs. He’s also calling attention to differences with Republicans.
Obama will depart on a three-day swing state tour the morning after the State of the Union to Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan.
In a campaign video President Obama framed the narrative ahead of his State of the Union address saying, “We can go in two directions, one is toward less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”
This narrative is intended to appeal to the concerns of voters who think America has become a nation of income inequality. The biggest challenge President Obama faces is convincing a nation which has witnessed its economic fortunes decline over the last three years. The president needs to walk a political tight-rope and not give Americans reason to ask why he is waiting until his third State of the Union, to really push on with an economic vision for the country.