With the US economy at least appearing to gather steam, Barack Obama will on Wednesday begin a series of speeches aimed at taking what credit for it he can, while suiting up for the autumn when the usual battles with Congress over economic policy are set to re-erupt.
The President will also try to regain the re-election lustre that has been dulled by frustrations on Capitol Hill – neither his gun control nor immigration reforms have yet come to pass – and scandals including the targeting of right-wing groups by tax authorities and revelations about intelligence gathering by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Mr Obama’s problems were illustrated by a Marist Institute poll giving him an approval rating of 41 per cent – the lowest in nearly two years. “Clearly, six months into his second term there has been fall-off across the board. It’s not like one group bailed on him,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute. “When he gets away from talking about the economy, numbers have a tendency to slide.”
Mr Obama’s tour starts Wednesday afternoon at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where in 2005 he delivered his first major economic speech after his election to the US Senate. He will make versions of the same speech this week in Missouri and Florida.
“I’m excited about the speech, not because I think [it] is going to change any minds, but because it gives us an opportunity to re-focus attention on the thing the American people sent me to focus on … the economy and the struggles of middle-class families,” Mr Obama told supporters in Washington on Monday.
He will not unveil significant new initiatives, but it will be his chance to remind voters of the central message of his re-election campaign: that economic growth will not come with Republican trickle-down policies but from bolstering the middle class.
Republicans are evincing boredom. “Speeches don’t hire people. Speeches don’t get things done in Congress. When will the President roll up his sleeves and figure out how to work with Congress?” said Kirsten Kukowski, of the Republican National Committee.
Mr Obama will doubtless attempt some self-congratulation for the economic headway made since the Great Recession, citing improved housing and employment figures in particular. But the foundations for this progress are shaky. The fall in unemployment conceals worrying trends, including an increase in workers taking part-time jobs because full-time work seems unattainable. And any growth could fizzle if the Federal Reserve throttles back on flooding the economy with money, as is likely later this year.