In this Dec. 6, 2010, photo President Barack Obama speaks about the key to boosting American competitiveness, that it rests in the nation's willingness to invest in a more educated workforce, a deeper commitment to research and technology, and improvements in infrastructure, from roads and airports to high-speed internet. Under pressure to boost the economy the same message will likely be at the center of his State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 25.AP
President Obama's challenge for his State of the Union speech Tuesday night might not be to pick all the right words, but to manage expectations -- both for its practical outcome and his ability to turn the political tide his way.
Analysts say the annual ritual isn't all that consequential in the long-term. "State of the Union addresses are really big for the moment. A week later people usually can't remember a thing," University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said.
"Maybe this one will be different, you never know, but the odds are it will be just like all the others," he said.
Still, for a president sandwiched between a stagnant job market and his own re-election campaign, each speech holds its own significance, especially one which commands national air time uninterrupted for nearly an hour.
"It's a an opportunity -- a once-in-a-year opportunity -- for the president to speak directly to the American people about the future of our country and tonight is going to be all about winning the future," senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett told Fox News.
The president has already begun laying the groundwork for his efforts over the rest of his term, attempting to foster a sense of togetherness with Congress and the American people. Obama frequently tells the public he knows many Americans have had to tighten their own belts and that the federal government is following suit.
Indeed, Fox News has learned that the president will call for a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary federal spending in his remarks -- an attempt to hack at the ballooning deficit with a nod to Republican calls for spending restraint.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is wary of a re-packaged message, saying, "I'm hopeful that the word 'investment' really isn't more 'stimulus' spending and a bigger government here in Washington."
Not only that, but some Republicans are concerned that while some rhetoric may sound appealing, words can evaporate as time goes by.
"What we hear tonight from the president may sound good on the surface of it. But what will really matter will be whether or not he actually follows through," said Karl Rove, former senior advisor to President George W. Bush.
Administration economists say the president is up to the task. Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said: "There's not going to be any question at the end of the speech tonight that the president is serious and committed to addressing the fiscal challenge facing the country, as well as there's not going to be any question that he recognizes what investments we need to make to keep the country competitive and growing."
Obama made creating jobs a central focus of his 2010 State of the Union remarks. With polls continuing to show public attention focused on all things economic, it will be a theme the president will reprise this time around. Perhaps this time around, analysts say, he'll have more success.
"He will be heard on jobs in a way he couldn't be last year when there was so much noise about health care," said Jeff Shesol, former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. "At least that is the hope of the White House, I think. And we'll see whether that's the case."
Managing expectations isn't just about tangible policy; it can encompass the emotional impact of the speech itself. Sabato said the spirit that Obama was praised for stirring in his recent speech about the deadly shootings in Tucson, is out of reach in this forum. "I guarantee you one of the conclusions we'll draw is that this speech was less impressive than Tucson," he said. "It's a given. You don't have the emotional backdrop."
Whatever the expectations may be, Rove said, they are usually outsized in comparison to what the public actually remembers. "We invest these speeches with too much in some respects and too little in other," he said.
"We expect them to do big things in terms of changing people's view of the president, but in reality since World War II, there have only been four State of the Union addresses that have resulted in a appreciable difference in a president's standing over a period of time. Most of the time it is a minor blip up or down," he said.
Just hours before delivering his remarks, Obama told the press, "I think it'll be ok. I hope so anyway."