Place President Barack Obama's scheduled state of the union address Tuesday night in the category of a bitter-sweet event.
On the plus side, Obama will have the bully pulpit, in President Teddy Roosevelt's phraseology -- a focus on the presidency before a joint-session of Congress, as well as a national-television audience.
Further, as it does for all presidents, the above obviously offers a grand stage for Obama to at least partially restructure the debate and get lawmakers, other Washington professionals and the media talking about the issues he wants to discuss, and on his terms. It's likely to be Obama's largest t.v. audience until he addresses the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September.
On the down side, even a well-crafted, well-delivered state of the union speech will translate into only a modest increase in support -- Obama may net a slight bump up in his public approval rating for a strong speech. However, longer term, that approval rating, currently 44 percent according to Gallup.com, will rise or fall on the Obama administration's performance solving the nation's problems -- with the U.S. economy and the nation's high unemployment rate being at the top of the list.
In other words, great speech Tuesday night or not, Obama's re-election chances in November will hinge on his administration's ability to fix the economy, all other factors being equal. Moving forward, inadequate job growth of 150,000 jobs per month or less, and Obama probably will be voted out of office; adequate job growth above 200,000 jobs per month, and Obama will likely be re-elected.
Obama Likely to Emphasize Positives of Public Policy
On Tuesday night Obama is expected to offer a government as activator strategy to draw a contrast with the Republicans' view of government as the source of many, if not most American problems.
Obama's speech will likely contain populist themes, tax credits that encourage private sector job creation (including much-sought U.S. manufacturing jobs), help for the beleaguered U.S. housing sector, and incentives for alternative energy development.
Obama is also likely to renew his effort to increase income taxes on the wealthy -- something that's been a non-starter with congressional Republicans. Obama will also try to structure the debate on taxes on fairness and shared-sacrifice grounds. Congressional Republicans, conversely, will try to structure the tax proposal as just another tax increase from a tax-and-spend liberal.
On foreign policy, Obama undoubtedly will offer his case for another around of sanctions, in cooperation with the U.S.'s European allies, versus Iran, which is suspected of developing nuclear technology not solely for energy, but also to build a nuclear bomb. Obama will also likely summarize the nation's progress to-date in the 10-year-old Afghanistan War, and outline how the nation will achieve victory over the Taliban.
A Daunting 2012
Strong state of the union speech or not, Obama in 2012 faces, arguably, one of the most daunting first-term election years in the modern/postmodern era. Having inherited the financial crisis and the nation's worst recession on inauguration day 2009, Obama was then compelled to offer a smaller fiscal stimulus than what many Keynesian economists said would be necessary to get the U.S. economy growing at strong rate. The result? Two and a half years in to the economic recovery, a sub-adequate GDP growth rate has left the U.S. with an unacceptably high unemployment rate of 8.5 percent. The nation is also short at least 10 million full-time jobs.
Part of the responsibility for that high unemployment rate rests with the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives, the other factor in Washington's gridlock. But that doesn't and won't matter for U.S. voters, who historically see the U.S. president as manager of the economy and hold him/her responsible for its performance. In sum, Obama has about eight months to rev-up GDP growth and create jobs, and the state of the union address would be a very good time to outline how he is going to successfully complete that enormous task.