A Few Thoughts on Where We Are

As we head into the President’s third State of the Union speech, it’s worth stepping back and looking at the broad swath of events over the last year.

Over the last year and especially after the debt ceiling debacle of late summer, the White House has been trying to refocus the national debate away from budget cutting and retrenchment toward job creation and tax equity. The Buffett Rule, the endlessly repetitive hawking of the president’s Jobs Bill (legislatively futile, politically powerful), welcoming a fight with the Republicans over an extension of the payroll tax holiday. We can see them all of a piece, staking out a policy agenda and converging on early 2012 as a platform to set the terms of the national debate.It’s striking just how much they’ve been able to accomplish in this regard. Some of it is a conscious repositioning on the part of the President. Another part of equation is the fortuitous appearance of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some is a simple organic and difficult to pinpoint shift in the national mood. But the difference is there nonetheless. And the President is further buoyed by small but now consistent signs of an improving economy.

Tonight the President appears poised to concentrate these different lines of argument — the Buffett Rule, tax equity, job creation — into a focused election message. And it would seem that only the luck which has always followed Mr. Obama can explain the fact that the speech comes on the very day his likely opponent Mitt Romney revealed that he paid 13.9% tax on more than $20 million of income last year. It’s the sort of plot turn that would not be credible in fiction.

As I noted yesterday, Mitt Romney is the poster-boy for the Buffett Rule. Or perhaps we should call it the Romney Rule — I suspect over coming months they’ll try. Polls suggest the last month has already taken a major toll on Romney’s standing with the public, especially with independents.

The speech we get tonight — whether one agrees with it or not — looks to be a speech that will mix policy arguments and an election message about as seamlessly as we’ve seen for some time.