Think of the President’s State of the Union speech as the opening whistle in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes. Until the moment before President Obama entered the U.S. House chamber to deliver his speech, this had been, almost entirely, a GOP centered campaign. And that should have surprised no one — Obama, or any sitting President, has that luxury. The idea is to go about the business of running the country while the opposition takes pot-shots at each other.
What happened, though, was that the GOP presidential field formed a circular firing squad and started shooting. Now that the damage has the Republican party limping towards their mid-summer convention, Obama took the stage where politics blends naturally with the business of running the White House — the State of the Union.
Obama’s task, to stake a claim on the political landscape, has been made easier by the GOP alley-brawl. All modern presidential elections occur between the 30 yard lines; base in pocket, it’s a scramble for the middle. But when one party’s self-flagellation pushes their rhetoric to an extreme, when the GOP pitches a tent so far to the right, it leaves Obama with a wide choice to pick a starting line. In this sense the State of the Union speech was a calculated move, as is everything this president does. Obama positioned himself comfortably in the left, and shot for the independent middle.
There doesn’t seem to be a need for Obama to stake a more centrist claim, at least not yet. His opposition is still in gestation, and that development has been nasty and extreme. He can afford to play from his base because the opposition has left the filed open. So he reiterated many of the Democratic points and positions that he’s been hitting for three years (immigration, homeowner relief, student loans, etc…), and strike a note toward the center by saying what the American citizenry has been saying all along — Washington is broken.
In the process Obama took a couple of shots at his opponents: Buffet rule, class warfare, middle class taxes. The idea here wasn’t so much whether to do it or not, it was to what degree: Mitt Romney’s tax disclosure puts a human face on the 1% idea. The rest was a dunk that any president in his shoes would have done: he hung his hat on obvious wins — saving GM, ridding the world of Bin Laden. He avoided mentioning the deficit, but his idea must have been to not give the other side a rhetorical step to stand on — at least not form his own lips.
So it’s on, and we should expect this campaign to slog through the primary season, drag through the summer and hit a serious stride in September. Until then, Obama’s campaign is hoping the GOP keeps shooting at themselves, leaving the middle of the field open.
[Photo By Obama-Biden Transition Project]