on offense

Most of the State of the Union pontificating focuses on what’s at stake for the president (regardless of political party), particularly in the election-year address. What about a president’s supporters? The people who have been and will continue to do battle over the next year from the ground game to the airwaves, fending off a barrage not only attacking the president they support but also their own judgment? Or the people who are frustrated but want to believe again? 

President Obama goes into tonight’s speech with increasingly energized support bolstered by his push for the American Jobs Act and the executive orders and recess appointments of “we can’t wait.” But his supporters need something more: to hear the heartfelt conviction about what the president views as his accomplishments. During a speech at Georgetown in 2009, he spoke about the actions his administration had taken to lay a foundation for America’s future not in sand but in rock. A future with sustained economic growth, rising incomes and prosperity built on hard work and investment rather than debt and reckless speculation. Tonight’s speech should tie it all together, reviewing the case for laying that foundation on a rock, and how we go forward.

Like sharks smell blood in the water, the president’s opponents have already begun an attempt to use perceived uncertainty or indecision about his record as a weapon. With that in mind, Obama should do something he rarely does — take an emotional risk and show (not just tell) America his personal determination and conviction about the decisions he’s made, his record and vision going forward. He must be decisive so that his supporters can be decisive. From the stimulus plan to saving the auto industry to job creation to repealing DADT; from healthcare reform that protects people with pre-existing conditions to taking out Osama bin Laden, to bringing troops home from Iraq, the president must connect the dots from the ideas he campaigned on to the vision he has fought to push forward in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Republicans are already on the attack, suggesting that the ideas in the speech are not new, that the record is shaky. 

So rather than what has become the usual defensive response posture, team Obama should reject the impulse to explain or spin the substance of the speech as a dressed-up version 2.0.  Instead, embrace the attack — consistency of vision is not only a good thing, it’s part of what Americans voted for overwhelmingly in 2008. 

The speech is shoehorned after the first GOP presidential debate since last week’s tectonic shift, a week before the Florida primary on the evening after we learn just where in the 1 percent Mitt Romney’s fortune lies, and a rebuttal from Mitch Daniels, the architect of the Bush budgets that began to tank our economy and raise the deficit. Creating both a contrast and a reminder of the choice in this year’s election between Obama’s vision, which is as inclusive as America truly is, or the “classical America” some on the far right and 1 percent yearn for.

Let’s assume the president delivers, or comes pretty close. While substantive differences within the Democratic Party remain, going forward, every Democrat and supporter should repeat Obama’s blueprint narrative over and over and over again until the media are as sick of hearing it as they were of “yes we can.”

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.