Tonight of course is President Obama's first official State of the Union Address at 9 p.m. (and we plan on blogging about it live here on Daily Loaf). And though there's lots of interest, history says it won't change his poll ratings much. More on that in a moment.
There are tons of articles spread out throughout the nation's newspapers today on what the President must say, or should say, or what will he say as the nation tunes in.
No doubt, it's an important speech. Last week's election results in Massachusetts may be wildly over analyzed, but it has shook up the system, as Democrats are running around looking scared, though they still hold huge majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Of all the commentary I've read this morning, Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic has a most interesting take. Cohn said he never thought that Obama's brilliant speeches qualified him to make a great president, but said that changed when Obama delivered his speech on race in the wake of the Jeremiah Wright fiasco nearly two years ago:
So can Obama pull off this trick? Maybe. As Ive mentioned before, I never drank the Obama kool-aid. But thats not because I didnt like him. Its because the qualities I saw in him—from hearing his 2004 speech and then reading his autobiography—-seemed ill-suited for politics. He was clearly somebody who reveled in ambiguity and embraced contradiction, which is great if youre a writer or intellectual but not so great if youre trying to win votes in the world of thirty-second sound bites.
Or so I thought before the Wright speech. The easy approach to that controversy—the one, Im sure, most political consultants would have advised—would have been a simple and apologetic disavowal of Wright. Instead, Obama seized the opportunity to offer a disquisition on American attitudes about race, in all of its mind-numbing complexity.
Somehow, the gambit worked. People paid attention. They respected Obama for it. And his candidacy survived.
My gut tells me that this State of the Union cries for the same approach—that people will respect and embrace Obama if, rather than backing down, his reaffirms his commitment to the ideals on which he ran. They want to know hes listening, but they also want him to keep fighting. They can handle the complicated message—in fact, they want it.
And perhaps this is what Obama himself wants to do. More than most politicians, he seems to enjoy confounding Washington experts by challenging the public. It's worked for him before. Maybe it can work again.
Interesting, isn't it? But what if it doesn't matter?
Gallup released report yesterday indicating that, with the exception of some of Bill Clinton's SOTU's, most presidents don't get much of a bump, or a drop at all in the polls following this much hyped annual ritual. They report that the problem is usually only the Presi