The State of the Union Address

With the presidential election looming on the horizon (well, ok, technically it’s at the end of NEXT year, but you understand), tonight’s State of the Union address is a vital occasion for President Obama. In recent weeks his polls have improved and it seems he has ‘benefited’ from the shooting in Arizona. Just as in 1995, the crazies may end up saving a liberal Democrat president by making him appear to be the voice of moderation in a world gone insane. Political violence is the great spectre that risks over-shadowing the forthcoming election cycle. It remains the great taboo in American politics, but that is a matter that will have to await another occasion…

Tonight will be Obama’s chance to showcase his credentials in primetime, to an audience of millions, at home and around the world. Forget what you may think, this is quickly becoming a global presidency, with the eyes of the world focused on the Capitol Building tonight. This is not simply a speech for the chamber. Tonight really marks the start of the race for the White House in 2012. A poor speech will knock the president off track, force him onto the defensive and give impetuous to the Republicans. A strong speech will remind Americans as to why they voted for Obama, of what he stands for, what he is against and what he has done so far. If Obama has demonstrated a weakness so far, it is in providing a narrative of his time in office. This needs to change, big time and tonight needs to be all about that change. Not ‘change we can believe in,’ but change that is tangible.

Two years ago, Obama basked in the glory of election and seeming universal adulation. Tonight he stands before the American people and those of us overseas who recognise the importance of the speech, as an older, hopefully wiser chief executive. I say hopefully because so far there is not necessarily the evidence that the Obama team have learned the lessons that Clinton did in the mid 90s, but time will tell. Obama has one big advantage going into the election season: No credible challenger from within his own party or even the Republicans. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has a singular claim to fame: An apparent inability not to burst into tears at any given moment: Hardly Commander-in-Chief material. His propensity for handkerchiefs is exacerbated by the prowling lipstick–wearing Pit-Bull/Grizzly Mama Bear better known as Sarah Palin, whose shameless self-promotion and inability to take one foot out of her mouth without replacing it with the other, makes her a rather inauspicious, though highly compelling candidate: In the same way that people watch NASCAR for the impact collisions. Of vital importance is the lack of a challenger for the Democratic Party’s nomination. I say vital because of a singular, salient fact: Incumbents who do not face a battle for their party’s nomination secure re-election. Period. Those who have to fight a rearguard action lose. End of story.

Obama’s mission tonight is to emerge head and shoulders above his Republican opponents. In the past they have actually helped him in this exercise by proving equal to their lowly billing. Tonight Obama needs to set out a path to re-election that ignores the results of the 2010 midterms and focuses on the big-picture; jobs, security, prosperity and legacy issues. He needs to think about what he wants Americans to be doing in January 2013. He needs to paint a picture of that and in so doing, make it happen, just as the Gipper and Clinton proved so capable of doing.

America’s greatest presidents have been those that have given voice to America’s greatest hopes for tomorrow and found a way to communicate that vision in an articulate and accessible manner. Tonight is Obama’s opportunity to continue to wide the wave he mounted in his reaction to the Tucson shooting (expect a massive play on this).

Can he do so? Can he deliver? Can he read from his teleprompters? Time will tell…

2 thoughts on “The State of the Union Address

  1. Obama will echo Hamilton in the State of the Union

    During the summer and fall of 1791, while Madison and Jefferson were building up the Republican resistance, Alexander Hamilton was hard at work in Philadelphia on a number of projects, the most absorbing of which was his Report on Manufactures. Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures went further than any other report in projecting the future of the United States and its place in the world economy.

    Hamilton urged congress to promote manufacturing so that the United States could be “independent on foreign nations for military and other essential supplies.” In addition to national independence, manufacturing would provide a path to equality in the global market.

    Hamilton foresaw mass immigration into the United States and a domestic population explosion, and understood that the diverse population of the future had the best chance of widespread prosperity through a diversification of labor.

    He recommended specific policies to encourage manufactures; among them protective duties and prohibitions on rival imports, exemption of domestic manufactures from duties, and encouragement of “new inventions . . . particularly those, which relate to machinery.”

    To Hamilton the absence of substantial manufacturing in the United States was a gaping hole of opportunity that desperately needed to be filled. Congress was not as enthusiastic.

    The report was never put up to a vote. Although Hamilton’s proposals initially failed to receive support, virtually every recommendation was adopted by Congress in early 1792.

    • This is an interesting suggestion. I wonder what you base yuor assumption on? I never pegged Obama as a closet Hamiltonian, though I could be wrong….

      Problem is that in an age of interconnectivity, can American really be ‘independent on foreign nations for military and other essential supplies,’ or ever again allow for manufacturing to provide a path to equality in the global market? It’s a nice idea, but with labour costs beign what they are, I fear that outsourcing will continue as long as Americans cling to their love of WallMart and cheap gas.

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