4:45 p.m. ET: As the minutes tick away before President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress tonight, the expectations game is already well underway.
David Sanger of the New York Times writes that Obama's challenge is to convince us that "big government is back — and then to make a persuasive case, with a specificity he has avoided until now, that if done right, this era will not last for long." You could say Obama has already begun to lay the groundwork to do exactly that, signing a massive, deficit-swelling economic stimulus bill last week and then vowing yesterday to chop the deficit in half.
Sanger says Obama will try "to be at once reassuring and realistic," and over at The Daily Beast, Jon Avlon calls for a similar tone: "realistic but optimistic." Avlon prescribes an extra dose of calls for bipartisanship as well as an emphasis on health care reform, while Sanger focuses more on how Obama should frame the bailouts of the banks and Detroit in more populist, help-your-neighbor terminology.
Writing at FiveThirtyEight, Berkeley linguist George Lakoff purports to have cracked "the Obama Code," which unfortunately is NOT the name of the latest Dan Brown novel and thus does not involve Freemasons or lost scrolls.
Lakoff finds that Obama "tends to express his moral vision indirectly. Like other self-aware and highly articulate speakers, he connects with his audience using what cognitive scientists call the 'cognitive unconscious.'" The result, he writes, is that what "Obama has been attempting in his speeches is a return to the original frames of the Framers, reconstituting what it means to be an American, to be patriotic, to be a citizen and to share in both the sacrifices and the glories of our country." There's a lot more where that came from, if you're interested.
Unlike some analysts, Michael Scherer of Time expects from Obama a detailed discussion of the state of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration leaked news today that Obama is likely to announce this week that most U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by August 2010, but it seems unlikely that Obama will say anything that specific tonight. What he can do is offer an optimistic update on progress in Iraq, just as Scherer and other observers are hoping generally for more, well, hope. After an Inaugural address that some critics saw as gloomy, Obama can shift his tone tonight by promising, as Scherer writes, "that America's greatest days lie ahead."
8 a.m. ET: Thirteen hours from now, President Obama will stand before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber and -- we're making an educated guess here -- speak of the importance of bipartisanship. He will say that the monumental challenges of our time demand that the two parties work together. He will tell Republicans he wants to hear their ideas too, and that the political ways of the past will no longer suffice in dealing with a potentially frightening future.
Obama sounded similar themes Monday during his Fiscal Accountability Summit, calling on Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike (oddly, as though they were reporters) and asking for their views. And he has emphasized bipartisanship since the day he was sworn in, sometimes to his own detriment, as Obama's words were used against him throughout the economic stimulus debate. But new polling released in the prelude to Obama's joint address suggests that maybe he needn't worry so much about bringing people together. Maybe bipartisanship is overrated.
In the new New York Times/CBS News poll, respondents were asked which of two options should be the "higher priority" for Obama -- "working in a bipartisan way" with Republicans, or "sticking to the policies he campaigned on." Fifty-six percent chose the latter option, while 39 percent chose the former. But the results were flipped when people were asked what the congressional GOP should do; 79 percent said they should work with Obama and his fellow Democrats, while just 17 percent said they should stick to Republican policies. The poll's message: Despite all of Obama's rhetoric, it's a lot more important for Republicans to be bipartisan than it is for Obama. Perhaps because he won the election and they lost.
That's not to say Obama should throw bipartisanship out the window altogether. The president told attendees at yesterday's summit that health care would be the main priority of his first term in office, so much so that he plans another summit on that topic for next week. (How about a summit where people of all stripes can gather and plan future summits?) Obama will almost certainly need at least some Republican buy-in if he wants to get real heatlh care reform signed into law. Even the small sliver of the economic stimulus bill devoted to health reform ended up sparking a fierce debate, so Obama can't expect to do something more sweeping without some GOP cover.
The same could be said of Obama's efforts to rescue the economy, which currently include giving more money to the auto companies, more money to A.I.G. and possibly buying a huge stake in Citigroup. Can the president do all that if Republicans are steadfastly opposed? And can the markets recover if Obama continues to paint our current predicament in such stark terms? The president is facing pressure to use his speech tonight to offer a little more hope about the future than he has in recent weeks.
On Cabinet votes, at least, Obama definitely needs a bit of Republican support -- enough to get to 60 in the Senate. Hilda Solis faces a test vote today on her nomination to be Labor secretary. Next up could be Gary Locke, who is widely reported to be the likely pick for Commerce secretary. So far nothing seems to have emerged in the public vetting of Locke to suggest that he will have trouble garnering support from across the aisle. But if these first five weeks of Obama's tenure have been any guide, we shouldn't count on bipartisan backing for his nomination until we see it with our own eyes.
February 24, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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