Jonathan Singer is right to say that last night’s State of the Union did the job for President Obama, in that it laid out clear contrast between him and the Republican Party.
If I was struck by anything, it was that Barack Obama set the stage to come off as unreasonable [sic] as his political adversaries look unreasonable. From healthcare to spending to education, the President appeared willing to deal with Republicans unwilling to deal. This not only makes it easier for the President to win reelection — generally, the reasonable candidate is going to win over the unreasonable one — it will also make it easier for him to win the political battles that are almost assured to arise over the next two years out of the Congress, starting with a government shutdown that many expect to occur.
I think this is right. While the speech didn’t do a whole lot to energize me as a progressive activist, I think it really helped make the President stand apart from what the Republicans are selling: divisiveness, conflict, obstruction. If the lame duck session was any indication, the President will be able to paint Republicans into a corner that they do not want to be in and move his agenda as a result. The drawback is that this agenda will be more determined by political optics than policy necessity or ideology. If the President’s primary goal is reelection, he’s well positioned to beat the midgets of the Republican Party. The question is, will political maneuvering result in enough getting done to make optics and posture instructive in voters minds? Or will the net result of this maneuvering have to be an improved economy with more jobs and lower unemployment, which will likely be even more palatable to voters than mere contrast? Drawing contrast is critical to winning elections, but I don’t know if it is enough in itself. Unless, that is, the GOP nominates someone like Sarah Palin.