Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama will seek to rally his divided nation and his own compromised political prospects Tuesday, in his ritual State of the Union address.
Obama will step up in the House of Representatives at 9pm, wielding the issue of economic inequality as a cudgel against the Republicans holding his second term hostage.
White House aides say Obama will be “optimistic” and “ambitious” in the speech to lawmakers, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and military top brass, which is sure to include multiple, choreographed standing ovations.
But beyond the spin — and despite signs of faster growth in a still wounded economy — the president has little to cheer going into his sixth year in office.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found Obama’s approval rating stood at 43 percent, the worst level for any president apart from George W. Bush, heading into his sixth year State of the Union address since World War II.
Twelve disastrous months after Obama delivered an inaugural address bursting with liberal ambition, six in ten of those asked said they were uncertain, worried or pessimistic about what he will do in his last three years in office.
Obama’s reputation was scarred by a botched roll out of his signature health care law, budget clashes with Republicans and perceived missteps abroad.
But he will try to seize the chance on Tuesday to recapture momentum and to chart the early going for mid-term elections in November, in which his Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate.
Republican control of both chambers on Capitol Hill would mean a grim final two years in the White House for a president who came to power vowing to change the world.
To fight back, Obama will mine a political seam that has proven profitable before — taking aim at the inequality that has deepened as the wealthiest Americans prosper and the middle class struggles to shake off the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
“I think restoring security and economic vitality to the middle class is a very ambitious goal,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The White House has signaled that since Republicans are unlikely to advance Obama’s agenda in Congress, he will try to directly mobilize the American people behind his priorities in the prime time address.
He will also wield his own powers to the limit, though what he can achieve through executive order is more limited than what is possible through congressional action.