WASHINGTON—In an editorial published the day before his annual State of the Union, Obama used the memory of Ronald Reagan to ask Republicans and the nation to believe in his vision.
“President Reagan recognized the American people's hunger for accountability and change—putting our nation on a bold new path toward both. … He understood that while we may see the world differently and hold different opinions about what's best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else,” Obama wrote in a commentary published in USA Today.
Obama quoted key Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sarah Palin, praising the former Republican president.
He wrote, “No matter what political disagreements you may have had with President Reagan … there is no denying his leadership in the world, or his gift for communicating his vision for America.”
The parallels drawn by Obama are clear attempts to present himself as a man to rally around. The State of the Union is the time when a president offers his assessment of the nation’s present and future.
The president has received praise from all quarters for his speech made after the Arizona shooting tragedy that left 6 dead and injured 14, including a congresswoman.
That speech at the University of Arizona focused on the strength of the Americans who rushed forward to help the fallen, on the greatness of those lives that were lost, and on the importance of the nation rising above its grief and looking ahead.
It was also about the power of rising above differences for the sake of a better future.
Two years into his term, the president is faced with a very different Congress than the one he started with. When Democrats ruled both chambers, they were able to muscle through challenging legislative priorities, such as stimulus measures, and financial industry and health care reform.
At this stage, with Republicans in firm control of the House and a weakened Democratic presence in the Senate, Obama is forced to find compromise in order to move his priorities forward.
A Clash of Visions Expected
In a video released to supporters through his grass-roots organization, Organizing for America, Obama offered a preview of the main points of his union address.
He emphasized his commitment to regaining American dominance in innovation, manufacturing, and education.
“We have got to make sure that we have the most innovative, dynamic economy in the world,” said Obama.
“My principal focus, my number one focus is to be making sure that we’re competitive, that we are growing and creating jobs, not just now, but well into the future,” he said.
The president’s vision of revitalizing the foundations of the American economy through education and R&D represents long-term spending investments of the sort that many Republicans are set on opposing.
Spending cuts represent a key plank of the Republican agenda, meaning that investments of any sort will be hard for the president to win.
This week, a measure to reduce government spending in all areas to 2008 levels entered into debate in the House of Representatives.
Over the weekend, a number of key Republicans appeared on network talk shows offering a preview of their reactions to the president’s upcoming speech.
“With all due respect to our Democratic friends, any time they want to spend, they call it investment, so I think you will hear the president talk about investing a lot Tuesday night,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky, on “Fox News Sunday.”
Republican leaders’ choice of new House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to deliver the traditional rebuttal of the Union address sends a statement of their likely response to Obama’s vision.
Ryan was chosen by Republican leaders, according to a statement, for his “leading voice for fiscal discipline and common-sense solutions to cut spending and create jobs,” as well as his “detailed critiques of big-government policies.”
“Paul Ryan has spent the better part of the last two years explaining exactly why the Democrat agenda has been so bad for jobs and the economy, and why we need to ditch the government-driven approach in favor of creative, common-sense solutions that put the American people back in charge,” said McConnell in a statement.
Obama’s hearkening back to Reagan makes for unifying rhetoric, but the hard work of coming together to accomplish common goals is what will define success or failure.