President's address will strike balance
Share with others:
WASHINGTON -- Based on some recent previews, President Barack Obama's State of the Union address next week will aim for the tricky balance of claiming credit for promises he has kept while tacitly acknowledging that he needs to do more.
This year's report to Congress will come against the backdrop of a sluggish jobs market and a restive U.S. electorate eager for more signs of economic progress, and in recent speeches, Mr. Obama has begun to re-embrace his 2008 theme of change by seeking to link his accomplishments to the idea of change.
The president has been using the refrain "Change is ..." to catalogue a list of actions -- including rescuing the auto industry, enacting health care reform and ending the war in Iraq -- that he hopes will increase his re-election chances. "We've begun to see what change looks like," Mr. Obama told hundreds of supporters in Chicago last week.
At the same time, he has rolled out a series of initiatives intended to emphasize his determination to fight for ordinary Americans, as the administration struggles to restore public confidence in the economic recovery.
Over 11 days this month, Mr. Obama installed his choice to head a consumer financial watchdog agency despite GOP opposition; called for tax breaks for businesses that return jobs from overseas; and asked Congress to give him broad power to restructure government agencies. On the surface, the initiatives appeared to have little in common, except that Mr. Obama tied them together as victories for the little guy -- a family that nearly lost its home in the stock market crash, factory workers looking for jobs, small-business owners trying to break through the federal bureaucracy.
"The competition for new jobs, for businesses, for middle-class security -- that's a race I know we can win," Mr. Obama said. "But America is not going to win if we give in to those who think that we can only respond to our challenges with the same tired, old tune ... [and] hope that prosperity somehow trickles down."
White House aides said the president's national address Tuesday before Congress will draw heavily on the themes he laid out last month in Osawatomie, Kan., where he tried to channel former President Theodore Roosevelt's urgent middle-class populism.
Gone is Mr. Obama's lofty 2011 State of the Union call to "win the future" through long-term infrastructure investments, replaced by the more tangible set of "we can't wait" executive actions to jump-start the economy.
The president's two-tiered strategy -- demonstrating progress while assuring audiences that there is much more to come -- aims to neutralize his biggest vulnerabilities: the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.
Republican operatives have developed a 500-page playbook dedicated to attacking the president for, they say, not living up to the promises of "hope and change" he made in 2008.
"The last three years have held a lot of change, but they haven't offered much hope," GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said last week. "The middle class has been crushed."
Despite the criticism, Obama advisers say the president's populist stance has provided a sharp contrast to the GOP, especially as Mr. Romney has been hit by Republican rivals and the Obama campaign over his tenure as head of Bain Capital. The private equity firm reaped large profits by restructuring failing companies and outsourcing jobs overseas.
First Published January 17, 2012 12:00 am