Here are several things I'm looking for:
- I'd like to see the president offer a progressive populist narrative for the country's hard times that counters the standard conservative populism. In other words, tell us that government is not the problem. Corporate power, and its influence over government, is the problem. (BTW, stop saying "special interests" and start saying, "big corporations, their lobbyists, and the politicians who curry their favor.")
- I'd like to see Obama push Congressional Democrats across the finish line to pass health care reform. I doubt he'll get specific on the legislative details. But he could tell the House to pass the Senate's bill and then tell the House and Senate (using reconciliation and a simple majority) to pass a "fix bill" that makes it more progressive. Talk frankly about the role of the Republican filibuster in this process.
- I want the president to speak out forcefully against the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United vs. F.E.C. He should call for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the decision and reclaim the First Amendment for people instead of corporations.
- I would like to see the president list some mistakes he's made in his first year. Somewhere near the top of that list should be, "I wasted too much time seeking bipartisanship, even in the face of extreme Republican obstructionism, while American working families needed quick action."
Check below for updates during and after the speech.
Update 8:45pm EST: Diet Coke open, popcorn on standby.
Update 10:03pm EST: Well, he talked about the SCOTUS ruling, but called for "a bill" to fix it, not a constitutional amendment.
Update 10:05pm EST: Not a bad section, I thought, about Republican obstructionism. "Saying 'no' to everything may be good short-term politics, but it isn't leadership."
Update 10:13pm EST: "I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." It's about time!
Update 10:20pm EST: Speech finished. All in all, not bad, I think. I like that he made obstructionism and a Washington culture that tends to bog down any big progress the enemies. It's basically a way of telling Congressional Dems to get themselves together and wield the tremendous power they have in these big majorities, a way of telling the Republicans that there will be political consequences for their obstructionism, and a way of telling the American people that, "Yes, things suck, but I'm the only one offering anything."
Update 10:30pm EST: "Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated." I liked this way of calming the panicked Left who has felt lately like the wheels are coming off. It was also a way of explaining to the less politically involved not to get so excited about the general narrative lately, which has been about Obama and the Democrats "reeling."
Update 10:34pm EST: Did anyone notice Samuel Alito shaking his head while Obama was talking about the Citizens United case? I was looking away at the moment, but I heard someone on CNN mention it.
Update 11:15pm EST: The Nation's Chris Hayes complained, "There are not enough villains in this speech." He's got a point. Obama didn't really bring the hammer down on his enemies. But does he ever? I think he did what he needed to do putting the last year in perspective, explaining what he's trying to do now, and explaining what is stopping him from doing it: a minority party that will filibuster a Post Office naming resolution and "the culture in Washington." That's basically what Democrats need to be running against...though you could certainly add some more language about corporate lobbyists. But I think at this point the White House views public optimism as its key. If people think things are going to improve, Democrats will do well. If people are generally sick of everything about politics--including the nasty language necessary for bringing down the hammer--Democrats will do poorly.
Final Update 11:45pm EST: I'm heading to bed feeling good overall about the way Obama handled this. Let's see if it translates into some momentum on the Hill to pass health care and into a change in the media narrative away from, "The Democrats are falling apart!" toward, "Wow, despite continued opposition from Republicans and big business, Democrats are getting stuff done."