Every president has his portrait painted early on in his first term. The figurative portrait of President Obama the public sees is the gilded orator who can give a great speech but fails to produce the necessary action. It doesn’t matter if that is the full truth about the president it is how he has been painted by public opinion. President Obama must address that perception in his State of the Union speech on Wednesday night. His address needs to be an action speech.
The president must outline his plan to get America working again. It has to be bold and specific. He must acknowledge that while the stock market has begun to rebound there are too many people under-employed or unemployed. He needs to propose legislation and then tell the Republicans that if they have a plan, it cannot be just a “cut taxes and wait plan,” but it must be a real plan. He ought to announce that he will be holding office hours at The White House over the next four weekends. He should then invite Republicans to come over and present any plans and legislation they have.
The president also needs to speak to all of the major groups in America that are unhappy. He should tell the Tea Party supporters that he hears them. He should let liberals know that he hears them, too, and he must tell the Blue Dogs that he hears their vocal barking.
He needs to let voters know that he hears their anger and frustration about the state of the union and what he intends to do about it.
President Obama needs to explain why he decided to bail out Wall Street and why Main Street has a right to be angry. He should then announce that he is going to take a bus tour of Main Street USA to see first-hand what Americans have been coping with in the year since he was inaugurated. He needs to invite members of Congress -- from both sides of the aisle -- to accompany him and to work with him while sitting on the bus to develop legislation that is going to put America back to work.
Health care must be a central part of his State of the Union address. The president should outline what will happen to our country if we don’t have major health care reform. He should ask the Republicans to call him up if they have a plan that is going to insure another 35 million Americans. By doing this he will put the opposition on the defensive. He should let America know exactly what steps he will take if health care does not pass Congress in the next few months.
The Republicans have owned the cap-and-trade debate and President Obama must make the case for green jobs and green technology as methods to grow the economy. He needs to give examples of new technologies that are employing people. He needs to show how his plan is going to make America into a world leader again the way we were 50 years ago.
Again, he should challenge the naysayers to come up with better plans if they don’t like his proposals. “I am all ears,” he should say.
On the international front his task is to calm down the anxiety about domestic terrorism in the United States while not looking like a “mini-me” version President George W. Bush. He should appear thoughtful and outline his work with our allies to enhance our world position while at the same time coming across as tough and smart. He has to pre-empt the post speech analysis by the Republicans. He can do this by anticipating with Republican leaders are going to say and by outlining steps he plans to take to address their concerns.
Finally, he must address the budget. He want to freeze discretionary spending. However, even if he gets his way (not that likely) the overall picture of Medicare and Social Security makes the freeze on discretionary spending look like a drop in the bucket. Neither party wants to take on that debt issue.
President Obama must tell the American people that he was elected to not just give good news but true news. He should say he wants to be remembered as the president who told America the truth. That would be a real populist message and would win him the support and the accolades of the folks in the middle, the voters who ultimately sent him to the White House in the first place.
Ellen Ratner is Washington bureau chief for Talk Radio News Service and a Fox News contributor.