Just under 100 years since Woodrow Wilson kicked off the modern tradition of the oral annual address, President Obama take's the stage with the wind at his back but plenty of friction. President Wilson gave his speech less than two months into office when he had large Democratic majorities in Congress and a strong economy. Obama's fifth State of the Union (SOTU) comes almost 49 months after his first term inauguration with a House Republican majority and 7.9% unemployment.
Those facts notwithstanding, Obama's bully pulpit has never been taller after a decisive re-election, a 53% approval rating, and the Dow Jones near a 5-year high.
Obama's first SOTU address of his last presidential term will be his opportunity to lay out his remaining agenda and the terms thereof. Top on the list will undoubtedly be a rousing endorsement for public investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, renewable energy, and education.
This message, although crucial to middle class prosperity, will be the one most vociferously attacked by the GOP's deficit scolds. Another poignant and timely topic will be gun control, although even invoking the Sandy Hook massacre and slain teenager Hadiya Pendleton will not be enough to sway support for large scale measures. Immigration reform is one area that Obama can confidently reach across the aisle.
On this topic, Obama has the opportunity to reinforce recent bi-partisan proposals and particularly promote the GOP's effort in reaching a solution. The biggest question for Obama's 2nd term is whether he will seek to do as President Lincoln professed, destroy his enemies by making them his friends. Tuesday's SOTU, 204 years to the day after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, might just be the start of that courtship.