Tomorrow night President Obama will address the nation in his first State of the Union (SOTU) address. Although it feels like this it might be his fourth or fifth SOTU, it truly is his first and comes at a particularly painful time for Democrats who are scrambling for meaning after last week's loss in deep, deep blue Massachusetts.
Obama has the dubious task of 1.) Winning back independent voters who have left him and the Dem party in droves 2.) Re-igniting liberals and progressives who feel that the health care debate has been an exercise in political bukkake, and 3.) Preventing a snowball effect of Democratic retirements in swing districts.
Without a doubt, tomorrow night the President needs to reset the political agenda for 2010. Holding firm to this current agenda is political suicide. I hate saying this because I agree with the current agenda. But let's face it: He's lost the war of effective messaging on health care and climate change. Sorry, he's right on the issues but wrong on the timing of it and he hasn't done much to enthuse people. Recognize the political reality, people: Back burner the current agenda and move the party in a different direction until the second week of November this year. Or suffer more devastating loses.
As part of this new agenda, we very obviously must be hyper-focused on job creation. And when I say job creation, I mean, figure out a massive public works project that puts people to work, like yesterday. A jobs creation proposal needs to be bold. None of this tax cuts for businesses in the hopes that someday they'll hire someone and cover their health care bullshit. People are hurting now. The health care debate has been so confusing and so overly compromised that people don't believe it will help reduce costs or keep them healthy.
The NY Times predicts Obama's SOTU speech will cover debt limits, spending freezes and some "modest initiatives intended to help middle class families." Modest ain't bold. And I am afraid modest won't reverse sliding approval numbers fast enough. In order for independents and progressives to rally, you need to launch a bold, jobs creating initiative. Krugman predicted this dilemma over a year ago: A second supplemental stimulus is required and it needs to be dedicated solely to job creation. The first stimulus was too small, the effects barely noticed by the average voter. Now, politically, you cannot push for another huge spending bill without suggesting big cuts in conjunction— that's just dumb. So I suggest taking a page from the Gregoire Book of Budgeting and roll out your cuts first and then offer your spending/job creation plans secondarily.
The reason Democrats lost Massachusetts and Republicans lost NY-23 has more to do with the fact that the voters don't believe either status quo candidate is delivering real results than it does a major political shift one way or the other. Unemployment is too high, debt is too big and the deficit is growing too large. Because Democrats are in charge, they will be punished more severely of course, but look to the GOP primary contests in Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Indiana, Utah and Kentucky to know that the GOP has their own set of issues. So Obama will do well to say "I learned from Massachusetts and I want you to know, I hear your concerns and you're right: We got lost in the debate. I got your back."
When people are angry, all they want is to be heard and validated. They don't need to be right or justified, being heard can be enough at times. So if Obama leaves the stage tomorrow staying the course without moving a new massive agenda and without validating the concerns of the angry populism that caused Massachusetts, expect another 1994 Republican Revolution in less than ten months.