Obama and The State of DisUnion
President Obama reports to the Congress and the nation on the condition of our nation on Tuesday. His speech is both a look back and a preview of the battles to come before asking the American people for another term in 2012.
Image by George Cassutto
Used with permission
On Tuesday, January 25, 2011, President Obama will fulfill his constitutional duty “give to the Congress information on the State of the Union.” This speech will is quite anticipated since it is the first given since the ascension of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. President Obama is experiencing an uptick in popularity since his speech at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims. Still, the House voted to repeal what they derisively call “Obamacare,” and there will be numerous legislative battles over the debt ceiling, congressional oversight, and reducing the federal deficit coming down the pike. Everyone is wondering if the tone within the House chamber will follow Obama’s own request for elevated discourse and mutual civility which he made after the tragedy in Arizona.
President Obama will probably recount the legislative victories he was able to achieve in his first two years in office, especially after a productive lame duck session took place before the Democratic majority in the House was dissolved with the 111th Congress. The public furor over health care reform seems to be dying down with the Democrats making a stronger case against repeal than when they argued for passage in 2009. In recent weeks, polls show Americans more willing to let major parts of the health care law stand with only sections in need of reform, namely the mandate to purchase health care and onerous regulations to which small businesses still object. The Republicans in the House may damage their own position with their show of strength, since it will result in a merely symbolic gesture. The Democratic-controlled Senate will kill the repeal effort, and even if by some chance it landed on Obama’s desk, he would strike it down with a forceful presidential veto, one that would withstand an override attempt by the Congress. The Republican majority seems to have failed to learn from Obama’s own mistakes – since he tackled health care reform before bringing the unemployment rate down to a level that would satisfy American public.
President Obama can present to the House chamber and the nation on Tuesday a number of other achievements that will strengthen his re-election bid next year. He is continuing the effort to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful close, though the definition of success in that part of the world tends to be a fluid affair. He was able to cajole the Senate in ratifying a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia without jeopardizing American military readiness around the world. He emerged from talks with China’s Hu Jintao with the potential for rectifying the US trade imbalance with that nation, and he is working on strengthening America’s domestic manufacturing capability in a way that would increase US exports to the Chinese market, moves that might bring some relief to the high US unemployment rate. The Chinese are also on notice to stop devaluing their currency, to engage in trade practices that are fairer, and that would benefit the economies of both nations. At home, Obama is sharpening the call for education reforms that would increase US competitiveness in math, science, and technology.
There is little doubt that President Obama will declare our Union “strong,” taking on the role of cheerleader-in-chief. The rosier a picture he paints, the greater the contrast between his policies, which are just now making a positive impact on the US economy, and those of his Republican opponents in the House, which may appear dismally negative in comparison. If the Republicans insist on sitting in a divided chamber as has been the tradition since the President has delivered the speech in person to the Congress, they stand to lose in the eyes of the public by being hyper-partisan in the midst of calls for civility in our political discourse. If the Democrats have their “Kumbaya” moment around Obama’s recently refreshed political glow, they will emerge from the House chamber the victors. Either way, President Obama’s momentum will continue to grow.