The State of the Union and of Obama

The mainstream media have been trumpeting poll data purporting to show that the American people are behind President Obama. Well, sure–no one who voted for him in November is going to give up on him after 30 days. But his approval rating, which continues to hover around 60 percent–lower in some polls–is nothing special for a new President.

Moreover, the poll data are troubling, from Obama’s perspective, if you look at them more closely. For example, this morning Rasmussen reported that public support for the Democrats’ pork bill is slipping: only 34 percent of voters now say the plan will help the economy. The public is also cool–likely even more so–toward TARP, the auto bailout and Obama’s mortgage subsidy program. And, of course, investors have given the President’s plans a resounding vote of no confidence.

So what will Obama do in his speech tonight? It’s not an easy problem. He can try to rally support for his various economic measures, but it’s hard to see how he can introduce any new ones, having already committed the government to trillions in new spending.

Some say that he will try to blame the nation’s problems on President Bush, and there may well be some of that. But passing the buck would be a very lame principal theme for Obama’s first State of the Union (or the equivalent). My guess is that he will take Bill Clinton’s advice and try to be more upbeat about the economy and, in general, the country’s path forward. He’s been criticized (fairly, I think) for being unduly pessimistic, presumably in order to cover himself by lowering expectations. But that isn’t what Americans look for in their President. I think tonight we’ll see the start of a new effort to instill confidence and a more hopeful attitude toward the economy.

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