Obama speech marks new path to 2012 election

The President has had a bump in the polls, with approval rates above 50 per cent

The retooled President Barack Obama will come fully into view as he undertakes the annual ritual of delivering the State of the Union address to Congress tomorrow. No more the stubborn champion of change and legislative reform; make way for the shepherd of national unity and cross-party conciliation.

It will be a pivot to the political centre that has largely been forced upon him, not least by the loss of control of the lower house to the Republicans in November. And with the clock ticking down on his own re-election effort, Mr Obama knows that voters want progress, especially on jobs, not ideological jousting.

"My number one focus," Mr Obama said in a video message about the address sent over the weekend to supporters, "is going to be making sure that we are competitive, and we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future." The theme of his speech, he said, would be "winning the future".

Even the stagecraft of tomorrow night will give Mr Obama and his message of co-operation an extra lift. Instead of following tradition and sitting in two party blocks facing each other across the chamber, Democrats and Republicans are being encouraged to mingle. It's a symbolic gesture for one night only but one that may prove a powerful one with a large part of the country tuning in to watch.

Not that the hallways of Congress will smell of primroses for long. Even yesterday, Republican leaders were pointing to what could turn out to be the most serious pothole in front of the White House – the need to persuade Congress to raise America's debt limit, which, at $14.3 trillion, is likely to be breached this spring, perhaps even at the end of March.

While the administration has warned that failing to increase the limit could be "catastrophic" for the US and cause it to default on debt payments, Republicans are looking to use the issue to force through their agenda of deep spending cuts that many of them promised to deliver in last year's midterm elections.

"Republicans are not going to vote for this increase in the debt limit unless there are serious spending cuts and reforms," the number two Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, said on NBC yesterday. "That is just the way it is. We know there are hundreds of programmes that are going to need to be cut."

Extremely delicate bridges must be crossed, however, before either side can agree on spending cuts that will be even slightly meaningful. While Republicans talk of courageous action to cut the deficit, they know that will mean slicing into sacred cows including the budgets for defence and social security.

But with the national focus squarely on him this week, Mr Obama will be making the short journey up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill with an unexpectedly favourable wind behind him. His approval rating has notched back up to 50 per cent in several recent polls, a shift that is attributed variously to his handling of the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the progress made at the end of last year on several fronts, including gays in the military, and improving economic sentiment.

"He has probably had the best 45 days of his presidency," said Matthew Dowd, a Republican consultant. "He has the power of the pulpit again."

Almost assuredly, however, Mr Obama is reaping political benefit from the perception that has already taken hold that he is moving to the centre. He has simultaneously signalled a more pro-business stance, for example hiring Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, to head a new competitiveness council in the White House.

As George Will, a conservative commentator, pointed out, the fruit for Mr Obama is visible in the polling results, including those saying that 10 per cent fewer Americans see him as a "big-government liberal" today than just two months ago. "That's astonishing, frankly," Mr Will conceded on ABC TV.

"Big challenges lie ahead," Mr Obama said in the video to members of Organizing for America, a grassroots group that helped fuel his 2008 campaign. "But we're up to it, as long as we come together as a people – Republicans, Democrats, independents – as long as we focus on what binds us together as a people, as long as we're willing to find common ground even as we're having some very vigorous debates."

Speeches with a national audience can give at least a temporary boost to American leaders. It happened when Mr Obama spoke at the memorial service in Tucson two weeks ago in honour of Ms Giffords and the victims of the shooting who died.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'