The timing of the State of the Union is perfect, with President Obama addressing joint sessions of Congress Tuesday, January 31st. Why then?
Traditionally the speech is on the last Wednesday in January, but with the South Carolina primaries pulled so far forward, there was a clash.
Obama’s detractors will likely say that he moved the SOTU to diminish the news cycle swell from the South Carolina GOP primary, while supporters will say he moved them to avoid taking people’s attention away from the circus acts there.
Either way the SC primary is the reason this year’s SOTU was likely moved, and by Tuesday which GOP contender President Obama will run against in 2012 will become clearer, which presents the opportunity to fine tune SOTU.
State of the Union addresses have always been a demarc — a stake in the ground to put the past year behind us and to look forward at where we are headed in the coming year. Most people ignore them and those who don’t mostly can’t remember the prior year’s speech, but in many SOTU speeches you normally get a few new directions.
There are likely to be bones thrown to the disaffected progressives on the left, and some realpolitik work towards regaining the center’s votes. I don’t expect fireworks, and perhaps that Joe guy, the congress-critter who thinks that Presidential addresses to joint sessions of congress are opportunities for Tea Party Demonstrations, will stay home.
Vilified on the campaign trail by Republicans, President Barack Obama will stand before the nation Tuesday night with a State of the Union address designed to reframe the election-year debate on his terms, suggesting a stark contrast with his opponents on the economy and promising fairness and help for hurting families.
Obama is expected to offer new proposals to make college more affordable, to ease the housing crisis still slowing the economy, and to boost American manufacturing, according to people familiar with the speech. He will also promote unfinished parts of his jobs plan, including the extension of a payroll tax cut soon to expire.
In essence, this State of the Union is not so much about the year ahead as the four more years Obama wants after that.
Obama’s splash of policy proposals will be less important than what he hopes they all add up to: a narrative of renewed American security. Obama will try to politically position himself as the one leading that fight for the middle class, with an overt call for help from Congress, and an implicit request for a second term from the public.
The timing comes as the nation is split about Obama’s overall job performance. More people than not disapprove of his handling of the economy, he is showing real vulnerability among the independent voters who could swing the election, and most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
So his mission will be to show leadership and ideas on topics that matter to people: jobs, housing, college, retirement security.