WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will use his election-year State of the Union address on Tuesday to define the role for government in helping to promote a prosperous and equitable society as an American tradition, hoping to draw a stark contrast between the parties in a time of deep economic uncertainty.
In a video preview emailed to more than 10 million supporters on Saturday, as South Carolina Republicans went to the polls to help pick an alternative to him, Obama promised a “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last,” with the government assisting the private sector and individuals to ensure “an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”
Obama has honed that message for months as he has attacked Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, contrasting it with what he has described as Republicans’ “go it alone” free-market views.
Just last week at fundraisers in New York, he told supporters that his push for a government hand and “rules of the road” had a precedent dating to the construction of canals and creation of land-grant colleges and including the GI Bill, interstate highways and the computer chip, while Republicans have moved so far to the right that 2012 will be a “hugely consequential election.” His advisers say they hope to make Republicans seem as out of step with public opinion as they were when Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated in 1964.
Notably, Obama will again propose changes to the tax code so the wealthy pay more, despite Republicans’ consistent opposition. Americans overwhelmingly support the idea, polls show, and the White House hopes that it gains traction with voters given last week’s acknowledgment by the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, Mitt Romney, that he pays a tax rate of about 15 percent because the majority of his income comes from investments.
With most Americans registering disapproval of his economic record after three years, it is all the more imperative for Obama to define the election not as a referendum on him but as a choice between his vision and the vision of his eventual Republican rival. Republican presidential candidates have argued that government should get out of the way to revive the economy.
Obama’s third State of the Union address is widely seen in parallel with the one delivered in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. Clinton likewise was seeking re-election that year, after voters in the midterm elections had put Republicans in power in Congress as a rebuke to his perceived big-government liberalism.
Yet Obama is charting an opposite response. While Clinton sought to co-opt Republicans’ small-government message — his State of the Union line “the era of big government is over” is among the most memorable of his presidency — Obama is confronting it, and framing the election-year debate in a way that aides say will challenge Republicans’ view of the role of government in a time of economic transition.
Advisers and other people familiar with the speech say Obama will expand again on the administration’s effort to resolve the housing crisis.