As he has three times before, President Obama tonight will address a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans at home, offering them a status update on the nation’s economic health, of its relationships abroad and, in some ways, a defense of his tenure to date.
The First Lady’s guests in the gallery will comprise a human highlight reel of presidential accomplishment: William McRaven, the special forces admiral who’s the closest personification of bin Laden’s killer as military secrecy allows; a young cancer patient who owed his health coverage to Obama’s Affordable Care Act; an Air Force Colonel, out of closet now that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has been repealed; a woman who refinanced her mortgage through a federal assistance program.
But, as he often has, Obama will keep coming back to the future. You remember, “winning” it. “Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world,” Obama will say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks provided by the White House. “An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded. “
“Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”
The small-bore legislative proposals, executive initiatives and general governmental tinkering that are the staple of a SOTU address are sure to appear. A hopeful line about the economic recovery just finding its legs may lead to a proposal for a manufacturing credit here or energy subsidy there. Its focus will likely be heavily domestic, to reflect the anxieties of a nation still shaken by the Great Recession. And the slim chance most of it has of ever becoming law will reflect the realities of a divided Congress. “As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum,” he’ll say. “But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
But Obama might just create a stir in the room. Among Michelle’s guests will be Warren Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, the now famous exemplar of tax rate disparity between most wage earners and high financiers. If Obama is to make his case that the tax code needs to be simplified and its burden spread more thickly on the high-income end of the toast, the so-called “Buffett Rule” is the way he’ll do it. It hits everything: the deficit, income disparity, economic angst. Obama’s been talking a lot about giving the middle-class a “fair shot” recently, and Tuesday night would be his chance to introduce his Fair Deal, if Harry Truman hadn’t taken the name first.
“The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama will say. ” Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”
In a re-election year, a President must propose more than tinkering. He’s got to make the case that the big work is unfinished, goals unrealized, that something important is at risk. At this very moment, that’s what President Obama is getting ready to do.