Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union speech tonight, although not his first nationally-televised prime-time speech to a joint session of Congress. Obama delivered that rare event in September when he wanted to move ObamaCare through Congress, and wound up offering an endorsement for an approach that had already lost favor with the electorate (the public option) and ultimately failed. That takes some of the luster off of what normally is just a laundry list of administration wish lists and cheerleading at the best of times. If he couldn’t move Congress with that high-profile cajoling, the SOTU speech isn’t likely to have much impact on the broader agenda, either.
What Obama needs to show in this speech is that he understands the priorities of the electorate. His legislative agenda has convinced most of us that Obama lost touch with the economic crisis after passing Porkulus. While he claims that his program has saved or created two million jobs, more than 3.4 million disappeared in 2009. Furthermore, there have been no signs of any reversal in the trend. If he doesn’t get back on top of the crisis and hit jobs jobs jobs repeatedly, voters will conclude that he’s simply more concerned about himself and his policy hobby horses than in the country itself.
So expect to hear a lot about job creation and stimulation. If Obama spends less than 10% of his speech on jobs, expect an immediate backlash among the commentariat, both Right and Left.
On other issues:
- Spending freeze – Expect Obama to start declaring himself a deficit hawk and highlight his spending freeze. He’ll also declare himself in favor of a bipartisan commission to reduce the deficit that he himself inflated. His commission idea ended on a bipartisan vote to block cloture yesterday, but he’ll blame Republicans for being hypocritical on fighting runaway spending.
- Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – According to multiple sources, Obama will call for an end to DADT. He needs to throw a bone to his Left, which has erupted in outrage over the spending freeze and were already unhappy over Afghanistan. The administration has leaked a number of pro-military stories over the past few days (learning to salute, more money for assistance to military families, etc) in order to gird their flank on this. However, according to Mark Knoller at CBS, the White House has not changed its position that Congress needs to pass an end to DADT as legislation rather than Obama abolishing it in an EO. In the end, this will be a nothingburger, since Congress isn’t going to pass any such bill in an election year, and Obama won’t push it for the same reason. (My thoughts on DADT are here.)
- Afghanistan and Iraq – Obama will claim credit for any successes possible and once again refer to the orderly withdrawal from Iraq as his achievement. He will have to address the skeptical Left in this passage and make the case for continued American involvement. My guess is that this will be the part of SOTU that Republicans will like best.
- Health care – So far, all indications are that Obama will demand action on health-care reform this year. He’s not likely to get it. Obama is also likely to steer clear of specifics (again) in order to maintain his distance from the disorderly mess into which ObamaCare disintegrated over the past few weeks.
- Cap and trade – The Copenhagen meeting was a disaster, and cap-and-trade legislation is a dead letter while jobs continue to disappear. Obama will likely reiterate his emphasis on alternative, renewable energy resources, although without the skim from C&T, funding for them will be hard to find, especially when Obama gets in deficit-hawk mode. In fact, he may just decide to stick with energy policy as an overall concept and skip talk of C&T, although that’s probably a long shot.
- Immigration – He’ll definitely hit this, as part of his strategy to split Republicans ahead of the midterms. One problem he’ll have is that the health-care reform direction Democrats took will now impact on this topic as well, which will make it hard to get John McCain and Lindsey Graham on board — because an eventual public option and Medicaid expansion will be a lot more expensive. It’s more likely to fire up the Tea Party crowd even more than they are now.
- Haiti – If Obama’s smart, he’ll spend a significant amount of time on this topic. Most Americans support his rescue efforts, and this is an easy nonpartisan bell to ring.
- Accomplishments – Expect to hear a lot about Lily Ledbetter again, and the gauzy notion that he has “restored our standing in the world,” all indications to the contrary notwithstanding. He’ll also claim credit for two million jobs “saved or created,” mainly because he won’t be able to resist it.
Robert Gibbs told the National Journal that this would not be a “reset” speech:
But White House aides bristle at the notion that the speech is a chance to hit “reset” after a troubled first year in office. Gibbs insists “you’ll find a remarkable amount of similarity” between what Obama is doing today and what he promised in the campaign and in 2009.
After losing so much ground with voters, a big bottle of Boone’s Farm Hope & Change 2008 isn’t going to cut it — but it’s probably what we can expect.
Update: Heck, I completely forgot my suggestion for SOTU Bingo. How about this: every time Obama talks about taking a courageous stand in demanding something both stupid and unpopular be done (like ObamaCare), drain your glass and refill. Otherwise, I’d follow Jonah Goldberg’s game rules:
Every time Obama suggests there’s a consensus among experts about a proposal when there isn’t, drink. Every time he claims to be aligned with the populist backlash he created, drink. Every time he suggests that History with a capital H demands that we do whatever it is he’s talking about, drink. Every time he says that he’s being “pragmatic” or “bipartisan” when he’s actually being wildly ideological or partisan, drink. And so on.
Make mine a double. See you on Twitter!