Tonight: President Obama’s First State of the Union Address


obamaPresident Obama delivers his first State of the Union address to the joint houses of Congress this evening, assessing his first year in office and marking out his plans for the coming year. The political world will turn to Capitol Hill tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — a future member of the 2012 veepstakes for Republicans — will deliver the Republican response.

The stakes for the president are considerable. He will speak just eight days after suffering the most significant political and policy setback of his first year in office when Republicans claimed a victory in a Massachusetts Senate special election that robbed Democrats of their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority. That loss set off a panic among Democratic elected officials, an anxiety that has led to rumors of a bevy of retirements from members who now believe they simply can’t win in the climate the administration has created.

(While the animosity between some elements of the Democratic Congress and the White House has been papered-over to date, it slipped out a bit when retiring Rep. Marion Berry told his local newspaper that Obama had explained to him that 2010 wasn’t 1994 for one simple reason: “You’ve got me.”)

Given that context, one of Obama’s main challenges will be to assure Democrats that he understands the political peril they are in and he is moving to help them — primarily by focusing almost exclusively on the economy and job creation particularly for the middle class. The proposals the White House has already previewed — a three-year freeze on most domestic spending, more money for military families, a series of tax cuts and credits aimed at middle class families — have a strong populist tint and White House aides have made clear in the day leading up to tonight’s speech that the president will seek to make the case that he — and Democrats by extension — are standing up for the average American against Republicans and big business. Obama is not a populist by nature and may well struggle if he tries to deliver a campaign-style speech in a chamber where Republicans will be looking to make their opposition to his proposals known.

{The Fix/Noam Newscenter}