In presenting a series of initiatives aimed at the middle class, Mr. Obama hopes to pivot finally from the politics of adversity and austerity that have frustrated him for much of his tenure. But coming off a midterm election defeat that handed full control of Congress to Republicans, the president faces long odds in actually enacting his agenda and in essence is trying to frame the debate for his remaining time in power and for the emerging 2016 contest to succeed him.
For a president entering the seventh year of his presidency, the State of the Union can be a final chance to move past difficulties and set the agenda before the next campaign swings into high gear and consumes the nation’s attention. Ronald Reagan used his to try to move past the Iran-contra scandal. Bill Clinton used his to try to move past his impeachment on charges of lying under oath about an affair with an intern. And George W. Bush used his to try to move past a disastrous year in Iraq and a midterm election “thumping.” “The improving economy is the backdrop for the speech and context for the economic debate over the next two years,” Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said Monday. “We have proof that President Obama’s strategy is working, and the Republicans now have a Chicken Little problem — all the doom and gloom they predicted did not come to pass.”