Thursday, January 23, 2014

Can Obama hit reset with State of the Union address? -- Jan. 23, 2014 column


Here’s something you will NOT hear from President Barack Obama Tuesday night: “I must say to you that that the state of the union is not good.”

That was the dour assessment of President Gerald Ford in his 1975 State of the Union address, five months after Richard Nixon resigned and Ford moved into the Oval Office.

“Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too low,” Ford said.

The bad news kept coming. He lamented a rising federal deficit and debt and our dependence on foreign energy.  And, he said, “Some people question their government’s ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”

A year later, in 1976, Ford tried again. “The state of our union is better…but still not good enough,” he said. So much for presidential candor.  Voters turned him out for a political outsider named Jimmy Carter that fall.

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address comes as polls show many Americans think the country is on the wrong track.  Only 45 percent approve of the way Obama is handling his job, and 53 percent disapprove, the latest Associated Press-GfK poll reported Thursday.

“Nice guy, so-so president,” the AP concluded.

Obama is expected to try to use his one-man show Tuesday to hit reset.  He can recite some good news : Unemployment is down; Congress has passed a two-year budget deal and $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, and about 2.1 million people have enrolled in health insurance plans on the new exchanges.

He’ll stand before a joint session of Congress, but his real audience is middle class voters, who hold the key to whether he can turn around his dismal job approval ratings before they chill Senate Democrats’ prospects in the midterm elections.

“The State of the Union is not just a conversation with Congress but a conversation with you, the American people,” Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, says in a video on the White House website, which invites viewers to “watch, then say you’re in.”

The Constitution requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the union,” but it doesn’t require a high-profile speech. Presidents basically mailed in a written annual message until Woodrow Wilson delivered his 1913 message in person.  

Other 20th century presidents embraced new technology to connect. “Silent” Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 speech was the first broadcast on the radio. Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first televised, and George W. Bush’s in 2002 was the first broadcast live on the Internet.

To reach its target audience, the Obama White House promises more digital bells and whistles than ever.

There will be an “enhanced version” of the address with graphics, data and charts that can be viewed on any device. Viewers may comment on social media during the speech and ask questions of administration experts afterwards. Obama will take questions in a Google+ Hangout Jan. 31.

Almost none of Obama’s 2013 State of the Union proposals got through Congress. He’ll renew his call for immigration reform and a hike in the minimum wage. He’ll also urge Congress to extend jobless benefits and expand workforce training. He calls 2014 a “Year of Action” and vows to use executive actions to help the middle class if Congress balks.   

Naturally, Republicans in their responses to Obama’s address will dramatize their opposition and their contention that he and Democrats have been an abject failure. Fox News host Sean Hannity reportedly will attend the address as the guest of Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex.

Some Democratic House members are inviting jobless Americans as guests. First lady Michelle Obama has invited about two dozen guests, several of whom can expect to be mentioned by the president to illustrate his points.

A year ago, Obama declared, “We can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

Expect no less Tuesday.  But it may take specific proposals and concrete action --not just an upbeat tone and tweets -- for Obama to convince Americans that he can make it even stronger.    

© 2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment