I am going to take a different tack from many of my colleagues. Some just cannot stand President Barack Obama and have simply run out of negatives to write about him. Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has just given up and argues that “no one is listening to him” anyway. National Journal’s Ron Fournier has declared that Mr. Obama is now desperate at this point in his term and merely “flailing”. Former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen says that the President will be forced to stand tonight before Congress and the American people as a “liar”. It seems, to this coalition of partisans and the pissed off, that Mr. Obama is merely running out the clock for a failed presidency.
I just don’t see it that way. To be sure, the Obama tenure in the Oval Office has not met the expectations that first carried him into the Presidency. His “audacity to hope” has met a brick wall and his experience has been too shallow to be the transformative leader we all expected. Besides, his personal aloofness has prevented him from wining and dining the opposition that he frankly detests. He doesn’t like either the politics or the people he has to deal with, and it has taken its toll.
But he delivers his fifth State of the Union message not from a position of weakness. Instead, tonight we will see a confident, not defeated, President. His approval ticking up to the mid-forties, nothing to brag about but he is 30 points more popular than the institution he speaks before.
The opposition GOP is losing, hopelessly split, in disarray, unfocused, prone to ham-handed comments about women and reproduction, with no message to women, especially young women, or minorities.
Unemployment is down to 6.7%, from a high of nearly 10% when Mr. Obama took office five years ago. GDP growth hovers between 3% and 3.2%, the highest rate of economic growth in years.
After going eyeball to eyeball with the GOP on a budget deal, his opponents let the government shutdown once again – and once again suffered the consequences.
Despite a terrible rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama now appears to be on the verge of success of his signature legislation achievement. When he stands before Congress and the American people tonight, he can claim well over 3 million subscribers to insurance exchanges (above and beyond those who had been previously insured and forced to change plans), plus millions of new Medicaid recipients.
Overseas, Secretary of State John Kerry has secured a multi-power interim accord with Iran to reduce its nuclear program, is locking horns with both the Syrian regime and opposition to stop the fighting, and Palestinian and Israeli leaders to secure a framework toward a peace plan. None of these initiatives ensure success, but this is hardly a President or administration that has thrown in the towel.
Biting off “inequality” is too big a mouthful. This is not a populist moment and Americans don’t resent the rich. But an increase in the minimum wage is a winner. It is supported by a strong majority of voters, including a majority who favor an executive action on raising it for federal employees. The cunard that raising the minimum costs jobs has been used ever since the minimum wage was first introduced in the 1930a and never has come to fruition.
The President will also seek to energize his base among women and the young with measures on the environment, infrastructure, and education.
Yes, Mr. Obama wanted to transform the culture of DC and he is not going to achieve that. But add to the above that he has extricated the U.S. from two miserable wars and killed Osama bin Laden, and we will see a President standing tall tonight.