It was a highly partisan State of the Union address. There was only one area that had a true feeling of compromise. If the President was genuine, it could be the issue that Republicans and Democrats can work together on. It would also help with an urgent problem.
First, what it wasn’t.
- It was not health care. Democrats, by last week’s defeat in Massachusetts, know this issue is a political loser despite what the President said. Large scale health care reform will not be revisited. Republicans won’t give the Dems a victory; Democrats want to change the subject before Election Day.
- It wasn’t on the spending freeze. Spending money is bipartisan in Congress. There will be little support on capital hill for freezing social programs, or for a commission to recommend cuts.
- It wasn’t on the jobs initiative. Whatever stimulus comes next will be small by comparison, and won’t change the overall jobs picture.
- It wasn’t on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. No matter how heart-felt the President’s feelings are, pushing this change in an election year is a political loser. Even the President’s supporters will wish he raised this issue in 2011, after the fall election.
The area that holds the opportunity for true bipartisanship is energy policy. Obama offered a list of concessions to Republicans… lifting some limits on off-shore drilling, supporting ‘modern, safe nuclear power’, backing clean coal technology. These are issues the GOP will support. The President has also signaled something by what he didn’t say. The Cap and Trade energy bill is dead for this year. No energy company would engage in new oil drilling or build clean-coal power plants in a carbon-credit environment.
What does the President get in return for these big energy concessions? Two things: First, he could have pro-drilling, pro-nuclear, pro-clean coal bills from Congress quickly. They would will bipartisan support and would show he can work with the other side. And Obama gives some political cover to Democrats in Congress who face tough reelection fights. He knows unemployment will be high and the economy will be growing slowly, if at all, by November. His political allies could not survive the added weight of being blamed for $4 gas this summer.
Obama’s energy compromise tells us something else. The White House is not tone-deaf about the current political environment. The more-radical, more socialist parts of the agenda are on-hold at least until Election Day, and perhaps indefinitely. The Oval Office has received the message from the West Wing pollsters and number-crunchers. Dozens of seats are at risk, and right now the landscape looks bleak.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau