State of the Union Was Typical for Election Year
Obama's speech was directed at the voting public, not a lawmaking Congress
January 25, 2012
There are two kinds of agendas a president can put forward in an election year State of the Union address: a legislative agenda for Congress, and an agenda for his re-election that is aimed at the public. President Obama laid out an agenda for his campaign. Whether it is a winning one or not remains to be seen, but the themes emphasized (particularly fair play and shared responsibility) are ones that will be repeated over the coming months. Obama's legislative agenda, however, is unlikely to get very far in the halls of Congress. This speech will not break the gridlock that has become endemic in that institution. Republicans have been determined to deny the president any legislative victories, even before the election year began, and this speech is not going to change that calculation. Obama knows this; four times in the speech he referred to the improbability of getting anything done in Congress in this election year. In doing so, he both tried to tamp down expectations as well as set up a potential election theme where he can campaign against a do-nothing Congress, as Harry Truman did in 1948. At the same time, he emphasized several things his administration was doing and would do unilaterally. Furthermore, Obama both subtly and not so subtly countered many of the criticisms that have been leveled at his administration by the Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination. Obama's speech was a typical election-year State of the Union address where the president claims credit for his accomplishments, presents a legislative agenda for Congress, and uses the themes from those legislative requests to frame the upcoming campaign.