Tonight, Barack Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union Address. In a grand, pomp-filled oratory, he will spend an hour ticking off his administration's triumphs, laying out the nation's still-simmering challenges, and ramping up his reelection bid.
There's a lot to cover (though it'd still be nice if he'd take Eliot Spitzer's advice and whittle the thing down to 10 mins), so speculating what the president will focus on has become an annual ritual for the political pundit class. So has offering up unsolicited advice on what he should say.
So, natch, here's mine.
First up, a preview offered to supporters confirms Obama will frame the whole thing in populist rhetoric: How the middle class has got it bad, how inequality is climbing, how we need more jobs, and how the rich should pay their fair share in taxes. Et cetera.
The economy will take center stage. The president will point to rising employment rates, saying 'we're not out of the woods yet' or such. Also expect him to confront the GOP's intransigence, chastise the party for failing to compromise, and urge them to start behaving like grown-ups. This is, after all, a primetime chance to establish his reelection messages in front of 45 million people or so and you better believe he's going to take it.
But the rest is a little more up in the air.
On Energy & the Environment
I'd bet that he'll make another push for clean energy (remember, his first 2012 campaign ad featured an energy independence and jobs theme), knowing well that most of the nation hasn't been snookered by the GOP's fixation on Solyndra.
Job growth in the clean energy sector has been booming, after all. It's been one of the bright spots in the economy over the last few years; and polls still show that most Americans are keen to see more support for alternative energy. There's still plenty of enthusiasm for renewables and energy security. Obama knows they make for a popular talking point (he's hit on the topic in most of his past SOTUs).
Elsewhere, Obama may take the opportunity to make a case for the raft of environmental regulations he passed last year. They were heavily opposed by the GOP, so, if he's smart, Obama might extol the virtues of those rules: "We helped reduce pollution, and made America a healthier place to live. By limiting the amount of toxic pollution industry can pump into our lungs, we helped save thousands of American lives." Or such.
The Hill notes that he'll also probably tout his tough new fuel economy standards.
Obama may raise the spectre of Keystone, where I'd wager he'll defend rejecting it for bureaucratic reasons: The GOP simply didn't give him enough time to complete the State Dept review; and he'd be open to another proposal down the line. Also, expect Obama to call for the "safe" extraction of domestic fossil fuels like natural gas, in a bid to exhibit bipartisan compromise.
Dare He Mention Climate Change?
The big question to many, however, is whether he'll address climate change. Last year, as you'll recall, he didn't utter the words once. Gernot Wagner reminds us that he didn't say 'global warming' or even 'carbon', either.
It certainly seems that he has an ideal window by which to do so: After the wave of extreme weather events last year, the tide of public opinion is again turning towards accepting climate change—and towards being open to have a conversation about solutions. It's the wild card, however. Obama has time and again shown little chutzpah on climate, though the window is so wide open, the link to clean energy jobs so clearcut, I'm kind of jonesing for a line like:
"Extreme weather events cost Americans their lives and caused the nation billions of dollars in damage. We can help stop climate change by supporting our nation's cutting edge clean energy industry, and create millions of jobs in the process."
Not bad, right? But don't hold your breath. Conventional wisdom says that climate change isn't exactly an election year priority with voters preoccupied with a stagnant economy. Then again, conventional wisdom usually sucks.
I guess we'll see tonight.