Today, as he makes his sixth State of the Union speech, the president faces a solidly Republican Congress, and he never has to face the electorate again. So we are seeing a stronger and more forceful president than ever before. He is challenging Congress to act and outlining again the principles he ran on in 2008. This is Barack Obama unleashed.
Republican leaders have chosen recently elected Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to deliver the party's response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Ernst is a veteran who grew up on an Iowa farm. She is also a pistol-packing, anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), anti-Clean Water Act politician.
Imagine how refreshing it would be to hear a State of the Union Address that is a list of shared goals instead of the all-too-typical wish list developed in a White House vacuum. Imagine a State of the Union in the voice not of "I," but of "we" -- meaning we, your elected leaders.
Unless the president gets trade policy right, and starts to tackle some uncomfortable truths about trading partners like China and Japan, America will be stuck with little more than a marketing campaign in place of serious manufacturing policy.
President Obama begins his seventh year in office in good position. At this point in his eight-year term, the unemployment rate is a) lower than Reagan's at the same time; b) lower than Romney/Republican targets for the end of 2016 and St. Ronnie's for his entire term; c) Medicare is now solvent at least through 2031; and, d) ~10 million more people are covered by health insurance.
Looking forward to Tuesday's State of the Union address, we are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. The White House has already pre-announced or leaked several "fourth-quarter initiatives," in the president's words. Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Among the measures requiring legislation is a tax plan that would increase taxes on the wealthiest in order to finance the tuition help for community college students and more generous child tax credits for working families. Obama also wants an excise tax on large banks and he is calling on Congress to pass a law giving all workers seven days of annual sick leave. All this amounts to a salutary whiff of class warfare, of the sort that identifies the president with most Americans, against the one percent. And there will probably be a few more surprises in the actual address that have not yet been leaked.
If President Obama talks about his Cuba policy on Tuesday night, his State of the Union Address could be unlike any our nation has experienced. Tuesday night offers Obama a unique platform for giving power and voice to the new ways in which Cuba and the United States can engage with and relate to each other respectfully.
The fact is all of us depend on healthy natural systems for our prosperity, our progress, our very existence. The state of those systems is imperiled. We need our political leaders in Washington to help create a more promising future for our children, not put it at greater risk.
The President has introduced only the grand idea of providing tuition-free education for all students attending community colleges, an idea which, at first glance, seems to have great merit. But at this point we know very few details.
This was a busy week in politics, as the Republicans in the new Congress began a bout of legislating and President Obama ramped up his agenda in preparation for next Tuesday's big speech to Congress and the country.
The scene is a familiar one: Gettysburg, November 1863. Almost five months after one of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, a crowd gathered for the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. One of America's finest speechmakers gave the oration. President Lincoln also spoke.
We've finally emerged from the crash of 2008. We've had 58 consecutive quarters of job growth. Unemployment is declining. Productivity is up. Yet, most Americans aren't exactly high-fiving each other. Never mind the state of the union; the state of their households isn't great.
In his recent words on the issue, Obama is dead right. But having spent the past decade focusing on these issues, I'm not ready to take a "Birdman" victory lap through the canyons of midtown Manhattan just yet.
There are many positive signs in the US. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the 3rd quarter was up 5% on an annualized basis compared to the 2nd quarter (adjusted for inflation).
Free, high-quality public higher education. Expanded apprenticeship programs. Jobs that pay living wages. Workplaces that are free of discrimination. Strong union rights. Don't those sound great?
All in all, ever since his forceful response to the midterm elections, Obama seems to be getting more and more popular. In absolute numbers, of course, Obama still has a long way to go.