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What will Obama discuss in the State of the Union address tonight?

Logically you’d assume some of the following things need to come up: gay rights, privacy, marijuana, inequality, job creation, student loan debt, and ObamaCare. On the last one, he needs to showcase its recent successes while also taking credit for a flawed roll-out, so that his 2014 Democratic brethren can semi-distance themselves from it as they run this November, or at least use his talking points of “failing upward” or whatever it may be. The Internet is awash with different theories on the outline and structure of the speech, so let’s dive in a little bit. Quickly before we do, though, this is contextually one of the harder SOTUs he’s ever given. He himself never has to run again, but his next couple of major addresses need to help the ’14 Democrats, help the eventual ’16 Democrat, and put a general sense in the public’s hearts that America isn’t (a) coldly spying on everything they do and (b) has some semblance of a short-term and long-term plan. Since (a) and (b) might not be 100 percent true in either case, it’s a tough line to walk. Obama’s a very skilled orator, though.

Here’s Christian Science Monitor:

“It’s difficult for presidents in their last years to initiate new proposals and have the Congress take him seriously,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But presidents remain consequential. It’s always true that being president of the United States means you have your hands on the levers of power.”

Even if Obama’s impasse with Congress holds, the president will still face the inevitable emergencies and foreign policy challenges.

Speaking on talk shows Sunday, top Obama aides laid down the gauntlet to Congress.

“What we saw last year in 2013 was a Washington that did not deliver for the American people,”White House press secretary Jay Carney said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president sees this as a year of action, to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary. To lift folks who want to come up into the middle class.”

Indeed. Remember this?

Now is the time of flexibility. Do stuff. Use “the pen and the phone” to move agendas forward. You’re still the leader of the free world, technically, for another 35 months — even if it seems like everyone’s already putting Hilary/Christie/whoever into that slot.

Here’s Reuters:

The White House said Obama would announce he is issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers with new contracts.

In his address, Obama will also call on Congress to pass a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 and index that to inflation going forward.

The executive order for new contracts or existing contracts in which terms are being changed would take effect at the beginning of next year, with janitors and construction workers among the beneficiaries. Issuing the order allows Obama to bypass Congress in a limited way, with Republicans opposed to a broad increase in the minimum wage.

White House officials said Obama would also announce new executive actions on retirement security and job training to help middle-class workers expand economic opportunity.

I feel like it was a pretty common theme of AP Economics back in the day that raising the minimum wage is bad — because it creates more opportunity for illegals under the wage rate, if I’m not mistaken (which I probably am), but I think everyone doing minimum-wage type work should be making $10.10/hour. That’s basically $22K a year or so. You can’t live on that in a major U.S. city, but it’s certainly an upgrade from the equivalent of $15K per year or so.

Here’s NBC News:

But the big danger for Obama heading into tonight’s speech is that Americans begin tuning him out like they do most second-term presidents. According to our poll, just a combined 40% say they are either “optimistic and confident” or “satisfied and hopeful” about Obama’s remaining time in office, versus 59% who are either “uncertain and wondering” or “pessimistic and worried.” That’s the president’s goal for tonight: convincing them to listen.

This is always really interesting given how the media coverage works in the modern era. Basically, Hilary is almost a bigger topic than Obama right now — and Christie almost definitely is. It’s kind of ironic that we’re seemingly always obsessed with the next big thing, but yet long-term aspects of society that need fixing — education, health care — don’t seem to get our attention as much. Maybe it’s just that we like analyzing races, and/or we view the Presidency as the closest thing we have to royals.

Here’s what people actually care about, via Wonkblog:

Priorities

And here’s what people care about if you break it down by party:

Partisan

This is pretty much in line with how the country is moving, sadly.

Here’s some ideas on immigration, via Politico:

The White House appears set in its strategy of maximizing its options within Congress. Immigration reform advocates say White House officials have told them Obama won’t threaten to take unilateral action to cut back detentions and deportation — at least not yet. They remain optimistic that House Republican leaders still want to act on immigration, providing a sliver of hope that Obama can accomplish something big in a year of low expectations of Capitol Hill.

The last thing Obama will want to do is antagonize Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is expected to release an outline of immigration principles to his caucus this week — a step that signals a level of seriousness that didn’t seem possible only a few months ago. If the president were to attack Republicans for not doing anything sooner or threaten to use his executive powers if they fail to act, Obama could risk a backlash.

That means the message Tuesday is likely to echo last year’s State of the Union address: Illustrate the urgency to deal with the issue. Talk up the economic benefits. Applaud bipartisan efforts to come up with a solution.

It seems like the only real path for the GOP to a 2016 win is to do something around immigration — basically, do something that connects with Hispanic and female voters, more or less — so how this issue plays out is pretty interesting, broadly. If the White House goes full bipartisan on it, and a GOP member ends up looking like the star of the process, that could hurt the Democrats in 2016 (or at least you’d reckon it might). So they need a bipartisan approach that still shifts back to the Democrats.

Obama’s got a lot to overcome tonight, in the broadest sense. Check out this NBC word cloud of associated words headed into the speech:

Like I said quickly above, he’s a skilled orator, so I’m sure the speech will be fine. Hopefully he gets a bit more honest on things like student loan debt — which is going to blow out the middle class in the next 20 years — and/or hydrogen/solar developments for cars. There’s literally about 1 million issues he could address and the speech has to hit around 53 minutes, so it’s quite hard — but as to the initial CS Monitor question of “Can he get his mojo back?” the answer is probably, but what happens in the days and weeks after the final applause has died down is way more important.

Ted Bauer

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