By Amie Parnes - 02/09/13 05:00 PM EST
President Obama will map out the contours of his second-term agenda when he speaks to the nation in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
In a speech meant to build on his second inaugural address — which was directed at the Democratic base and served as a bookend of sorts to his reelection campaign— Obama will put details on the far-reaching government agenda he hopes will become part of his legacy.
Obama has newfound freedom to be more combative, not to mention left-leaning, because he doesn’t face reelection, but he simultaneously needs to define goals that are capable of attracting majority support.
“The inaugural, as I heard it, was really a fighting speech,” said William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to Bill Clinton. “He has to decide now if he wants to continue in that vein or adopt a stance that makes it a little easier for the Republicans to consider cooperating with him.”
“The president must have noticed that he doesn’t have all the reins of governance in his hands,” Galston added. “If he wants to be truly transformative, he has to put together a coalition, and he can’t do that unless he’s really practical.”
After a first-term in which he broke Republicans on taxes and won legislative overhauls of the healthcare and financial systems, Obama has won a place in history. Yet the ambitions of his inaugural address offered the promise to Democrats and warning to Republicans that he is not done yet.
Obama wants to add to his first-term accomplishments with legislation on immigration and gun control, and his inaugural address also indicated gay rights and climate change remain priorities.
The White House realizes time could be fleeting to win those fights before the president becomes a lame-duck, which underlines Obama’s repeated calls for Congress to take quick actions.
Since winning election Obama has been combative with Republicans, who are still trying to move forward after a deeply disappointing election in which they not only lost the White House, but seats in the House and Senate.
Their choice of Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) to give the Republican response to Obama suggests the GOP is regaining its footing and finding a new leader. To win legislative victories, Obama will need to work with Republicans, not simply steamroll them.
“I think he’ll have to strike a conciliatory tone in this speech,” a former senior administration official said of Tuesday’s address. “The president realizes more than anyone that the only way he’s going to be able to meet his objectives is with the help of Republicans. He knows.”
Ken Lundberg, a Republican strategist, said Obama’s address has to be more all-inclusive because he said Obama’s inaugural address “became a 2nd term agenda that was dramatically different than his campaign speeches.
“From healthcare to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the president has made 'my way or the highway' dictates,” Lundberg said. “The best message President Obama can leave with Congress is, 'Let's work together, and this time I mean it.'"
In the speech—which is still in the works, White House aides say -- Obama will take a progressive tack on both social and economic issues.
“When I think about what it means to be a Democrat in this day and age, I start with the basic proposition that we are all created equal, that we’re all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights,” Obama told House Democrats on Thursday at a retreat in Virginia, offering a glimpse of what’s to come in his address on Tuesday. “And my governing philosophy and my interest in public service grows out of how we make that union more perfect for more people day in and day out. And that starts with an economy that works for everybody.”
While Obama said he would be speaking about other issues he’d like to tackle—including immigration, education, and developing clean energy technology — the president said the State of the Union address would focus particularly on jobs and the support of the middle class.
“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” Obama told lawmakers.
During his address, Obama is also expected to highlight his vow to end the war in Afghanistan. But aides say the focus will be primarily domestic.
Obama’s promise to raise funds and campaign for congressional Democrats suggests he wants to extend his power for as long as possible and put off his inevitable fade. Winning back a Democratic House majority in 2014, however, is a tall order that would defy history.
Second-term presidents generally see their party lose seats in mid-term elections, suggesting Obama only has a certain amount of time to achieve the goals he lays out in his State of the Union address, observers and White House aides say.
“I am reasonably sure that he will govern in the next 18 months with a real sense of urgency,” Galston said. “He understands the clock is ticking every day.”
“I think that will come through in his address,” the former senior administration official said.