Obama’s State of the Union message Tuesday night presents his best opportunity – perhaps for the rest of his presidency – to flesh out the details of his agenda and rank the priorities to a national audience.
Obama has four more years in office, but in reality, he may have as little as a year to enact major legislation before midterm elections get in the way – followed by the 2016 race to succeed him. In short, Obama is a man in a hurry. That may explain why his second inaugural felt more like a warm-up for the State of the Union message rather than a lofty call to unity.
In fact, Obama began to lay the rhetorical groundwork for his second term in the final press conference of his first term. The president, fresh off his success with Republicans two weeks earlier in extracting tax increases on the wealthy, warned Republican lawmakers not to demand a "ransom" in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
"He made his attitude clear: no more Mr. Nice Guy," says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "That was quite surprising to me, the way he came at the Republicans, and it struck me clearly that he was going to make them into his foil in the sense of a permanent campaign."