Player of the Week: President Obama

President Obama, who has been on the defensive for much of 2011, will try to play offense during his primetime address from Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The president will present his strategy for creating jobs during a joint session of Congress. Unemployment is a politically sensitive issue for Obama, with the nation’s rate stuck stubbornly at 9.1 percent. 

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Supporters of the 2009 stimulus law say that it worked, saving some jobs and creating others, but the White House predicted it would keep unemployment well below 9 percent, and that hasn’t happened. Democrats in Congress have sharply criticized the administration for offering that concrete prediction as a hostage to fortune. 

Obama is expected to highlight his support of extending the payroll tax holiday, an idea that has attracted critics on the left and the right. But the president has recently criticized the GOP for rejecting such a tax cut, and has argued that it would help the middle class.

Another policy on which he will probably try to back Republicans into a corner is that of additional infrastructure spending, some of which has been embraced by industry groups. 

But what will be new in the president’s speech? Democratic strategists say they like the idea of Obama commanding the stage, but they worry that there won’t be any bold new ideas that capture the imagination of the viewing public and give him and his party a modicum of momentum.

Such initiatives usually cost a lot of money, and Republicans have made it clear they won’t agree to anything that isn’t paid for.

In contrast to earlier this year, GOP insiders are feeling more confident about their chances of making Obama a one-term president. But, they note, Obama and his team know what works, and what doesn’t, in presidential campaigns. 

Obama has many tasks on Thursday. He needs to blame Congress for refusing to move his bills, but at the same time he needs to appear nonpartisan and concerned primarily — or exclusively — with the national rather than Democratic interest. He needs to appeal to independent voters who abandoned him in 2010. And most importantly, he needs to start to turn a political weakness — jobs, or the lack thereof — into a strength.