Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Obama’s second State of the Union Speech scheduled for Tuesday, January 25 is under fire before he has even uttered one word of it. This was predictable. The State of the Union speech is generally one of the most watched and listened to political speeches. It’s a President’s report card on the accomplishments, the present and future planned initiatives of his administration and his vision for the country. GOP and Democratic presidents are keenly aware that their Democratic and Republican opponents know that State of the Union Addresses boost the stature, prestige, and power of the presidency, and usually bump up the president’s approval rating by a point or two. They also know that the opposition’s response to the speech is feeble, pale, and little watched or counted by Americans. In some cases the opposition response can even backfire. That happened last year when GOP Louisiana governor Bobby Jindahl fumbled and bumbled through what most political observers deemed a mean-spirited, petty retort to Obama.
The history of the State of the Union speech underscores the power to shape policy and bolster the president’s image. President James Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln flatly called for the end of slavery in the rebellious states. This was the prelude to the Emancipation Proclamation he issued a year later. Woodrow Wilson warned of the dangers of impending war in 1913. Franklin Roosevelt outlined the famed Four Freedoms in 1941. Lyndon Johnson unveiled the outlines of his Great Society program to fight poverty in 1965. Bill Clinton unveiled his health care reform plan in 1993. George Bush in his State of the Union speeches in 2002 and 2003 prepped the nation for the Iraq invasion. Presidents quickly latched on to the media to give their State of the Union speech more exposure and political wallop. Calvin Coolidge gave the first radio broadcast in 1923. Truman gave the first televised broadcast in 1947.
The attacks on President Obama before he’s spoken have been partisan, familiar, and absurd. Absurd when GOP Georgia Rep Paul Broun with no inkling of what President Obama would actually say, told a radio caller that he would not sit next to a Democrat during the speech “when Obama spews his venom.” Broun reacted to the Washington DC policy think tank, Third Way’s proposal that Democrats and Republicans mix up their seating during the President’s address. GOP Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell took a different tact from Broun’s loony outburst. He jumped on reports that Obama will call for more increased federal spending on infrastructure, research, and for small business. McConnell blamed Obama’s supposed runaway federal spending for getting the country into the economic mess of the last two years. This of course belies and ignores the political and economic damage that the Bush’s administration’s giveaway to Big Business and the banks, and Wall Street’s push of the economy to near collapse did. But Obama’s renewed call for more strategic spending fits in with the public’s loud demand that the Obama administration refocus its time, talent and energy on jobs and the economy.
Obama has gotten that message, his stimulus measures in the tax cut extension, the high profile appointments of business friendly William Dailey as Chief of Staff, and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Wall Street insider Gene Sperling as key economic advisors, and talks on business and investment during the Chinese President’s state visit put business and the economy at the front of Obama’s front burner.
Obama critics have even reached back a year and picked apart his first State of the Union address and harangued him for allegedly lashing out at Republicans. Business Insider headlined its STOU piece with the question, “A Less Partisan State of the Union Speech?” It scolded Obama for his criticism of the Supreme Court for its conservative majority decision in Citizens United in 2010. The decision opened the floodgate for corporations to pour unlimited dollars into political campaigns with minimal checks and accountability. Major corporations and financial institutions wasted little time in doing that. They poured millions into the mid-term election campaigns. The bulk of money as Obama and the Democrats knew went to corporate friendly GOP candidates and incumbents. In singling out the Court for its politically lethal ruling, Obama did what other presidents have done and that’s use the State of the Union Speech to warn of the threat to Democracy of in this case a court ruling that threatened to turn elections into the exclusive preserve of the super rich.
The shrill warnings that President Obama will give a partisan State of the Union speech makes even less sense this year. Polls show that Americans applaud the president for his even handed, Tucson speech, his willingness to compromise with the GOP in its demand to extend tax cuts for the wealthy, and that Americans overwhelmingly want the Obama administration and Congress to end the rancor and work together on the problems and issues. Expect President Obama to say that on Tuesday.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on ktym.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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