Washington President Barack Obama will try to pivot past rocky times for the nation and himself tonight in his first State of the Union address, offering a skeptical public repackaged plans to energize the economy, stem a tide of red ink and strengthen anti-terror defenses.
He’ll also be trying to revive his own “yes we can” image.
One year into office, and a week after pledging to do better at “speaking directly to the American people,” Obama faces urgent challenges as he stands before lawmakers gathered in the Capitol and a prime-time television audience at home for the constitutionally mandated ritual of U.S. governing. The country has lost more than 7 million jobs since the recession began two years ago, unemployment is stuck at 10 percent, and the government is grappling with a record $1.4 trillion deficit.
Obama’s presidency is troubled as well. The percentage of Americans giving him a thumbs-up has fallen precipitously, from 74 percent when he took office to 56 percent now. He hasn’t had a breakout legislative or diplomatic victory, and he’s failed to break Washington’s partisanship as promised. Then last week, an upset Republican victory in a Massachusetts Senate race threw Obama’s signature domestic priority, a sweeping health care overhaul, into jeopardy and shined a spotlight on economic angst now being taken out on him.
Among the expected ideas in Obama’s speech: an emphasis on education, with calls for more accountability for performance but also more money to support reforms. Obama’s next budget proposal is likely to suggest consolidating a series of elementary and secondary school programs, but overall, would increase Education Department spending more by than 6 percent.
Obama will be using one of the presidency’s loudest and grandest megaphones to press several themes. They will be fleshed out in greater detail afterward as the president travels to Florida on Thursday and New Hampshire on Tuesday for jobs-focused appearances and when he submits his 2011 budget to Congress on Monday.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia will deliver a televised response Wednesday night, two months after putting his state in GOP hands in one of the party’s major recent election victories.
Among the freshly sharpened messages Obama will weave through his remarks: He’s a fighter for struggling families and against wealthy special interests; he relates personally to Americans’ everyday concerns; he has come far in one year but has made some errors along the way and has much more to do. And he does not intend to fling aside an ambitious agenda on health care, energy, education, immigration and other issues in favor of trimmed-down goals.
In fact, Obama will argue that his sweeping ideas for change are as much a part of putting the economy back on track as more immediate job creation and economic security proposals.
“If we don’t get that stuff right, then it’s going to be very difficult for us to answer the anxieties that people feel over the long term,” Obama said this week in an interview with ABC News.