Posted on February 12, 2013
Free from the burdens of a reelection campaign, presidents who win second terms reveal themselves when they come to Congress to give their fifth State of the Union address.
They can’t say the same thing that they just said in their inaugural address, because that would be really boring (not that most States of the Union aren’t boring. They are.).
George W. Bush revealed himself to be a confident gambler who decided to bet all of his chips on Social Security reform. Bill Clinton revealed himself to be a careful centrist, looking to achieve a detailed checklist of things that polled well in focus groups. Ronald Reagan revealed himself to be a poetic philosopher. Dwight Eisenhower revealed himself to be technocratic moralist, worried about corporate profiteers who might unnecessarily push up inflation.
Barack Obama will reveal himself to be a poll-tested populist progressive.
He is not a careful pragmatist. He is not trying to find the vital center. Nor is he is trying to bring the country together, to find common ground between red and blue states.
It is said that Obama will turn his attention again to jobs and the economy. This is the sixth time he has pivoted to jobs and the economy in the five years he has been president. He will do this not long after he decided to terminate his Jobs Council, a group of business leaders with whom Obama rarely met over the life of its tenure.
Obama’s job-creation philosophy is to burden job creators with more taxes to pay for more government spending. This is nothing new. He has long pushed for higher taxes to pay for more spending. What is new is that Americans from every income group are feeling the effects of higher taxes for the first time in close to 20 years.
Every college kid, every middle-class parent, every rich New Yorker has looked at their pay stub and had to confront the fact that their taxes have gone up. This hasn’t happened since the first Clinton term, and I imagine for many voters, it is a rude awakening. The voters now understand that when Obama calls for higher taxes, it means higher taxes on them.
Of course, the president will not just talk about the economy in his State of the Union.
He will browbeat congressional leaders to pass gun control legislation. He will blame the National Rifle Association and Republicans for inaction on an assault weapons ban. After ignoring guns for the first four years of his presidency, he will reveal himself to be a gun control zealot. That revelation will make some of his closest allies very nervous, especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
He will talk about immigration, but his comments will not be conciliatory, aimed at finding common ground with Republicans. He wants to win politically, and he wants Republicans to cave to his position.
Obama will reveal himself to be supremely confident in his own ideas and largely dismissive of the concerns of his opposition.
He will seek to trample the Republicans with the thundering herd of public opinion. He is not going to play an inside game. He is not going to jaw-bone his former Senate colleagues, like Lyndon Johnson, or charm the Congress like Reagan. He is not going to seek the middle like Clinton, and he is not going to temper his ideology like Bush, who made conservatism compassionate.
The president is a proud liberal. He wants to push this country to the left. That is what will be revealed at the State of the Union.