More from Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker piece on the internal White House memos. In 2009, advisers pressed the President, who faced an economy in free-fall, a too-small stimulus, and a boiling mad Tea Party, to use the 2010 State of the Union as a big re-set button.
Finally, they warned that the process of securing the President’s legislative agenda had damaged his distinctive brand. “Perhaps more than in any other area,” they wrote, “it is essential that we use the SOTU to reclaim the high ground on challenging the status quo in Washington.”
So how did that work out? Pretty well, though Obama was working with a majority in both the House and Senate. He went 6 for 11, which is a hell of a lot better than 2011 (4 for 18). Yikes. What happened and what does it mean for this year’s speech?
The Dems lost their majority in the House with the 2010 elections (still very much true)
- Freshmen Republicans were biting mad (still true, though with less leverage)
- It was closer to an election year, leading to more gridlock from the opposition. (way, way truer)
That last point is not trivial. Half of 2011’s failures were due to Congress either rejecting the motion or not bringing it to the floor in the first place. Which, yano, Congress has a right to reject or not advance ideas that they don’t deem beneficial to the American public. But the DREAM Act? Deep cuts to entitlement spending? Really?
Given the above, it’s likely that whatever Obama talks about tonight, little-to-nothing will be accomplished by next year, and certainly not before November. Even for the best, most bipartisan ideas. Which means he’s likely talk about how he’ll explicitly bypass Congress (not a bad idea) to pursue partisan, highly political issues and recess appointments (potentially a bad idea). And like ever other president except Bill Clinton, he probably won’t get much of a bump, no matter what happens.
A State of the Union speech can certainly set an agenda, publicly call out your enemies and friends alike, communicate budget priorities, and serve as one long shot-across-the-bow. But it’s most effective early in a term, a fact not lost on Axelrod et al circa late 2009.