By Jonathan Alter
Jan. 19, 2012
The news media won’t learn what’s in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address until a few hours before he delivers it Tuesday night. But we know one thing: If the president doesn’t give us specific ideas of what he wants to do in a second term, he’ll have a harder time winning one.
Obama articulated new themes for his domestic presidency in an important speech on Dec. 6 in Osawatomie, Kansas, where former President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, had unveiled his “New Nationalism” in 1910. Obama described the struggle to “restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness” as “the defining issue of our time” and called this “a make-or-break moment for the middle class.”
But the Kansas speech contained almost no proposals for how to “make” the moment. The State of the Union is where the president must actually explain how he would reduce income inequality, revive the middle class and restore faith in our battered democratic institutions. Trashing Mitt Romney (or Newt Gingrich) all year won’t be enough to get Obama over the finish line in November.