President Obama delivers his State of the Union address at a
political low point. He needs to buck up his party and soothe a
frustrated electorate. Will he adopt his new fighting persona? Will
anyone heckle him?
Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union address
Wednesday night at a low point in his presidency.
His signature domestic initiative, healthcare reform, is in limbo
at best. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. And his Democratic
majority in Congress sits dispirited after seeing a Republican
snatch the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
President Obama faces a multifold task: to buck up his own party,
lay out a renewed policy agenda, and reassure an increasingly angry
and frustrated American people. Here are five points to watch for as
he delivers his speech (at 9 p.m. Eastern time).
1. How many times Obama uses the word "fight." At a town hall
last Friday in Ohio, he used the word 20 times - much of the time
variations on "I won't stop fighting for you." His newly pugilistic
rhetoric comes amid a rise in populism among voters, after a year in
which many felt he was doing more for Wall Street than Main Street.
All the fight talk is a way of saying, "I hear you." It also
raises the expectation that he will be tougher in asserting himself
with Congress. Part of the one-year assessment of Obama's presidency
is that no one is afraid of him. He lays down deadlines that are
ignored. He can be vague about what he really wants. So if he
doesn't match his new rhetoric with actions, he could erode the
goodwill that he has.
2. What Obama says about healthcare reform. House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi said Wednesday that she still thinks the Democrats could pass
something. This followed less optimistic comments from other
Democratic congressional leaders Tuesday. In recent days, Obama has
sent mixed signals about how to proceed. In one interview, he
suggested a pared down version comprised of the more popular
aspects; then he backtracked and stood by comprehensive reform.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama could clarify what exactly he now
proposes. If he chooses to speak in more general terms - as some
aides have suggested he will do - then he can at least convey
through tone and body language just how serious he is about passing
3. How much Obama reaches out to angry populists. Beyond his use
of the word "fight," Obama can telegraph a message to Main Street
through policies. He has already laid out a five-point plan to help
the middle class, which he is expected to reprise Wednesday night. …