State of the Union Preview: Opportunity and Action [Column]

President Obama will address the nation tonight in his annual State of the Union address, outlining his agenda for the coming year and perhaps the remainder of his presidency. It is expected to be one of the most important speeches of his presidency.

I have had the privilege of sitting in the gallery as the president has delivered his message to the American people during past sessions and even had the opportunity to shake his hand after one of them. Each speech comes with a specific theme: For example, in 2011, he sough to rally the nation to “win the future,” challenging Americans to achieve the next level of greatness through innovation. In 2012, he laid out a blueprint for American manufacturing, energy and workforce development in his efforts to create a America that was “built to last.”

His address this year will incorporate some of those policy objectives. His message of opportunity, however, will have a greater sense of urgency as he seeks to ensure the relevancy of his presidency after a year of major setbacks and talk from critics and pundits of his pending lame-duck status. Even though such chatter is unwarranted at this point, his administration would admit that Obama has his eyes on the clock.

Although he will once again share his desire to find common ground with the GOP-led Congress to work together in bipartisan fashion, he will forcefully state that he will apply executive action to move his policies forward.

The following is my preview of what the president will offer in his blueprint for “a year of action.” Obama will communicate his plans to complete his mission of producing a land of opportunity for all. Before he reviews his agenda items, the president will have to concede, however, the 2013 policy fiascos such as the ObamaCare rollout debacle but he will quickly have to counter that 3 million have signed up for the program thus far. He will also seek to regain the country’s confidence with the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices by stressing the need to keep America safe while emphasizing new safeguards to the public’s privacy. Moreover, he will hail his administration’s success in pushing for economic recovery – the US Commerce Department’s final estimate for third quarter GDP growth in 2013 was 4.1% – and his role in the falling unemployment rate – it fell to 6.7% in December, the lowest point in five years. At the same time, he must admit to the nagging problem of long-term joblessness, growth of discouraged workers and the need to expand employment opportunities.