What Progressives Want from Obama’s SOTU: Fight

In his PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn takes a stab at answering this question: what do progressives want from President Barack Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address? He notes he’s “no spokesperson for the left. But here’s my hunch: fight.” Corn explains:

The first two years of Obama’s presidency have yielded mixed feelings among many of his supporters. He succeeded in scoring big legislative victories with his stimulus package, the health care bill, and the Wall Street reform law. But these initiatives all were marked by compromises that disappointed progressives….

In many of these episodes, progressives saw Obama toiling hard but not fighting fiercely enough. On health care, he spent much time courting a few Republicans who ended up not helping the bill pass. At the same time, Republicans and conservatives pummeled Obama, falsely calling the bill a “government takeover” of health care and decrying “death panels” that did not exist. It did not seem a fair face-off. Regarding the recovery package, Republican leaders asserted that the measure did not create a single new job. That was not true. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that the stimulus measure saved or created up to 3 million jobs.) The Obama White House did try to talk up the success of the package. But what infuriated progressives was that the president and his crew were not able to punch back in kind. Facing Republican obfuscation, obstruction, and prevarication, Obama and his aides, perhaps trying too hard to be reasonable and responsible, kept losing the narrative wars. The president was slogging it out on Capitol Hill, but not confronting the right-wing attack machine with sufficient might.

This was frustrating for Obama’s loyalists. And the grand climax came with the tax cut compromise Obama struck with the GOPers last month. As a candidate and as a president, he had pledged to oppose extending the Bush tax cut bonuses for the well-to-do. Then — poof! — he was hailing a package that included this extension (while still proclaiming his opposition to that provision). It again appeared as if the president had not been willing to slug it out with the other side.

Corn writes that progressives “will be listening on Tuesday night to what Obama has to say about policy matters — Social Security, job creation, Afghanistan. They will be quite sensitive to any hints that he’s willing to follow the suggestions of deficit hawks on Social Security and budget cuts. (In this speech, Obama will continue his tightrope walk: hailing government efforts to keep the anemic recovery going, while calling for a path toward balancing the government’s books.) But most of all, they will be looking for signs that Obama is willing to battle the conservative and Republican forces that politically outmaneuvered him this past year.”

He concludes:

During the State of the Union address, Obama will probably do what most presidents do: cover a laundry list of accomplishments and present a shopping list of policy initiatives. In those details, there will be much for progressives to applaud. But tone will trump specifics. The overarching question many progressives have about Obama, I’m guessing, is this: How vigorously will he fight the newly empowered Republicans for what we believe in? On Tuesday night, they want to see him flex.

Political muscle, that is.



Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.