While harsh partisan rhetoric is usually off-limits in such addresses, the moment gives the president the opportunity to emphasize themes that will help his party in the uphill fight to regain the House majority and to preserve it in the Senate in the congressional elections in November.George Zornick at The Nation:
At the top of the president's list will be income inequality, including legislation to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. If enacted, it would do very little to narrow the income gap between the richest Americans and the 99%, but the measure is rich in symbolism.
So too is the issue of food stamps. One of the most contested parts of the farm bill, now stuck in Congress, has been the enormous discrepancy between the size of the cuts to the program in the bill produced by the Senate's Democratic majority and the Republican House version calling for bigger cuts.
Obama should go big. Early reports of the president’s speech are already distressing some progressives. Apparently, Obama is going to avoid tackling economic inequality head on, and will instead speak in terms of “paths of opportunity” for lower- and middle-class Americans.Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, looks at six ways to fight inequality:
The policy proposals that have leaked out seem small-bore as well: Obama will reportedly announce, for example, some executive actions on things like job-training programs.
But the most effective State of the Union addresses—think Lyndon Johnson’s call for an “unending war on poverty,” or Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over”—go big on a bold new idea. That’s what many progressives want to see...
The problem is that any talk about tackling inequality runs directly into the reality of Washington gridlock. In an age when so little gets done, it is hard to imagine Obama will have any luck achieving much progress on this issue.Much more on the day's top stories below the fold.
But he needs to try. At a minimum, he can use the power of the presidency to at least get these issues into the national debate for now and for the future.
There are also some concrete proposals on the table that could take a dent out of inequality.
The AP reports:
On the eve of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is challenging Washington leaders not to ignore gun violence.The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The former Democratic congresswoman is featured in a new television ad set to air immediately before and after the president’s speech. In the ad, Giffords faces the camera and says, “Congress is afraid of the gun lobby.”
State of the Unions typically promise more than they can achieve. But in his speech Tuesday night, President Barack Obama should offer clear paths to action and legislative priorities he can sell to a fractious Congress that are meaningful to urban America.Dana Milbank:
Just days after a gunman killed two and himself at a mall in Maryland, will we hear concrete and achievable ways to make it harder for individuals to purchase an armory of weapons and ammunition?
The president made gun reforms a top priority after the Sandy Hook killings. He needs to find a way to the finish line.
A crowd-sourced count on Reddit of any gun incident in which four or more were shot found 365 mass shootings in 2013 alone. The liberal Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress blog found that in the first 14 school days of this year, there had been at least seven school shootings of all types, compared with 28 in all of 2013.At CNN, Rep. Steve Israel reflects on the state of the GOP, which he says is "misguided and obsessed":
With so many shootings, it’s perhaps inevitable that the Columbia incident seems almost routine. The weapon used, a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun, was ordinary, and the shooter reportedly had no criminal record and bought the gun legally.
But it is this sort of numbness that the women outside the White House are trying to counteract with their weekly vigils.
While House Republicans have obsessively voted to turn our health care system back over to insurance companies, that is far from the only damage they have inflicted on the people of this country. Their disastrous government shutdown -- which they launched to oppose the Affordable Care Act -- cost our economy $24 billion. They won't extend unemployment insurance for struggling Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who are looking for work -- all while they make sure that Big Oil gets its $40 billion in subsidies. They refuse to raise the minimum wage, while seeking maximum tax cuts for the rich. They have yet to pass anything that remotely resembles a jobs bill.The Week takes a speechwriter's look at the SOTU:
Those wrong priorities will come back to haunt them in November.
SOTU addresses are just as much about policy agendas as they are about political visions: SOTU speeches often provide laundry lists of specific policy agenda items, a sharp contrast to the sweeping rhetoric and grand visions of inaugural addresses. But given that millions of Americans watch the SOTU address every year, it still provides a highly useful platform for the president to generate political support for his agenda. Although the speeches can run long and pundits deride the laundry lists, "the public is hungry to hear the details of government from the people they elect to lead them," Waldman said. That still holds true, he said, even in today's age of 140-character limits and nonstop political spin.The editorial board at USA Today writes about the upcoming State of the Union and America's wealth gap, and urges more investment in education to balance the scales over the long term:
Greedy bankers and their ilk are bit players. They are just the ones best able to exploit the true drivers of inequality: the rapid advance of technology, which is replacing all manner of jobs with machines, and globalization, which depresses wages.Eleanor Clift looks back on past State of the Union addresses:
Neither trend is going away, nor should they, but both hit hardest on those with the fewest skills. Unemployment for college-educated people 25 and older is currently 3.3%. For those without a degree, it's 7.1%.
The question for Obama tonight is what can be done to revive opportunity for the once-contented blue-collar middle class and to give the poor the means to break from a multigenerational cycle of poverty?
Everyone's favorite answer is education.
[W]hat lessons can history provide for giving an effective and memorable SOTU? Ironically, it isn’t always what’s said from the podium...And finally, CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon runs down 7 things you didn't know about the SOTU, like:
Who is the Cal Ripken of Supreme Court State of the Union attendance?What are you hoping to hear in the State of the Union address?
Justice Stephen Breyer has the longest uninterrupted streak of State of the Union/“annual message” attendance of any current justice. He has attended every speech since 2001. If he attends on Tuesday night, he will have attended an impressive 19 out of 20 annual addresses since joining the Court in 1994.