Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Blog

By Jeffrey Wright

This evening at 9 pm, President Obama will deliver his third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television. According to statements made Monday by David Plouffe, a senior political adviser to the President, the speech will focus on the economy. Though the unemployment rate remains high at 8.5%, President Obama hopes to emphasize recent signs of recovery, including news that the economy added 200,000 jobs in December and that American manufacturing output grew by nearly 1%. The White House hopes that these signs of progress, as opposed to the dissatisfaction of the previous three years, will be on voters’ minds in November. Obama will also lay out a plan to reinvigorate manufacturing in America in addition to proposals to increase domestic energy production. Both issues have the potential to attract the sort of bipartisan support in Congress that has eluded President Obama throughout his first term.

The speech is also expected to signal the beginning of President Obama’s reelection campaign. The release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, which show that the former partner at Bain Capital paid an effective tax rate of just 14% on his $45 million of income over the last two years, gives the President an opportunity to make the case for tax reform that forces wealthy Americans, like Romney, to pay more in federal taxes. In that spirit, the President is expected to offer more details of the so-called Buffett Rule, which would ensure that the richest Americans pay an effective tax rate at least equal to that of the middle-class. After the speech, President Obama will set off on a three day trip to states expected to be competitive in 2012, including Arizona, where he will visit a manufacturing plant.

Obama’s focus on economic matters may be to the exclusion of important foreign policy issues. The lethargic economy has insured that the 2012 election will be more exclusively focused on the economy than any in recent memory, and public opinion polls show that Americans are more concerned with domestic affairs by a large margin. However, polls also show that the President’s handling of foreign policy is among the most popular parts of his record. One foreign policy topic the President is sure to address is Iran, where he will likely argue that American and European sanctions on Iranian oil exports have been effective in delaying Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Obama can use the purported success of the sanctions campaign to argue that Republican calls for a military response to Iranian threats are irresponsible and inflammatory. The President will also likely highlight his success in withdrawing American forces from Iraq on schedule, while simultaneously distancing himself from whatever happens next in the country. Using Iraq as an example, Obama will also remind Americans that he plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Finally, Obama will likely reaffirm his support for Israel in an effort to deny Republicans the ability to attack him as anti-Israel and firm up his support among Jewish voters.

As he has throughout his political career, Obama’s overriding message will emphasize America’s unity in contrast with the divisions in Washington. Despite those sentiments, election years rarely foster unity.

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