President Obama will mount the rostrum in the House chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016 to deliver his final State of the Union address as President of the United States.
This time, however, aides assert, he will not bring with him a list of proposals that will languish in Congress — instead, Obama plans a thematic message that effectively will be as much a campaign agenda as a governing codex. Although not on the ballot himself, Obama hopes to efficiently utilize what may be the largest television audience left in his presidency to frame who should replace him and what direction the nation must take following his departure from the White House.
Aides have stated that Obama seeks to present an effervescent, wholly optimistic portrait of America after seven years that will stand in opposition to the melancholic portrayals offered by Republican candidates — a task aided by strong numbers as far as job creation is concerned, but complicated by continuing turmoil in the Middle East.
While President Obama’s address shall indeed feature a few policy proposals, he hopes in the broader sense to generate support for his approach to contentious issues like global climate change, immigration, income inequality and gun control legislation while seeking to boost Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
“Last year, he spoke to Congress,” said Jennifer Psaki, the White House Communications Director. “This year, he’ll be speaking more to the American public.”
The public that President Obama seeks to address does not share his optimistic assessment of the state of the union. In a survey conducted by the New York Times and CBS News in December, 68-percent of Americans expressed the opinion that the country was on the wrong track, the highest figure in more than two years.
This apprehensive public mood has challenged President Obama throughout the course of his presidency. Since he took office, the proportion of Americans who consider the country heading in the right direction in Times-CBS polls has never outnumbered those who believe that the country is on the wrong track.
To Obama’s chagrin, Republican presidential candidates have found it politically lucrative to exploit that sentiment. “We can’t beat ISIS," said Donald Trump Sunday's "Meet the Press" on NBC News. "Our military is falling back. It’s not being properly taken care of. Our vets aren’t being properly taken care of. Obamacare, as you know, is going to fail very soon and probably in ’17, our health care. We don’t have borders. We don’t have anything.”
These statements have served to rattle President Obama, and he hopes to utilize the nation’s largest platform to push back. As a preview, he sent his White House chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, to most of the Sunday talk shows to counter Republican opposition, citing the 292,000 jobs created in December and the 2.65 million created in all of 2015.
As far as policy proposals to be presented over the course of the address, areas for legislation include a new “moon shot” to cure cancer, sought fervently by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer last year. Mr. Biden at one point hoped to include a major new initiative in the State of the Union, but since it has taken time to sort through the options and create a plan, the vice president will wait to make a major announcement in the next few weeks.
White House officials stated that other ideas proposed in the address would still be presented with specificity over the course of the year, saying that President Obama decided to talk more broadly about the progress the country had made and the steps not needed just this year, but the measures that must be made to strengthen the union and make it flourish for the next five to 10 years and beyond.
The State of the Union address will air on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. EST.