Rarely has a president delivered a State of the Union Address from such a suddenly encouraging position as President Obama will find himself in Tuesday night.
After suffering severe political setbacks in the 2010 election, Obama triangulated himself out of the year by taking the tax-policy debate off the table—embracing Republican proposals on rates for the rich and estates but getting enough on the side to earn generally high marks from economic pundits. Then, after a gunman shot Arizona Congressman Gabrielle Giffords and killed a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, Obama delivered a pitch-perfect response that renewed the sense that he really is a great communicator in the tradition of former President Ronald Reagan.
New polling from CNN puts Obama’s approval rating at 55 percent, higher than at any point in the past year and a half. At the same time, disapproval ratings for congressional Republicans are on then rise.
“The 55 percent figure is seven points higher than in December and 13 points higher than his September mark,” notes CNN polling director Keating Holland. And Obama is not just surging with Democrats; independent voters, who swung hard against the president’s party last November, now give him a 54 percent approval rating.
Those are muscular numbers, and the White House is betting that they can bump them up higher by addressing lingering concerns over his handling of the economy. Most Americans still disapprove of Obama’s approach to a host of economic issues, ranging from job creation to deficit reduction.
The White House is betting that a speech that presents a job-creation agenda will position Obama precisely right for the 2012 reelection campaign that—whether anyone wants to admit it or not—begins with this State of the Union Address.
Obama aides are so confident about the speech that they were releasing "Inside the White House" promotional videos and slide-shows about its preparation Tuesday morning.
They were, as well, signaling where the emotional high point would come: with an announcement that Daniel Hernandez, the intern who rushed to the aid of Giffords after she was shot, will be hailed as a hero. The family of the 9-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting, Christina Taylor Green, will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama. If the president is going to have a “courage” moment it will likely come here, with a reference to the sensible gun-control proposals he’s been urged to embrace by big-city mayors.
By and large, however, this will not be a risky speech.
Obama’s State of the Union wordplay will be graceful and inspiring, but it will have a precise political purpose: to position him as a “One Nation” president who rises above the partisan wrangling and unites the country toward a common purpose.