January 27th, 2010
11:38 PM ET

Obama’s State of the Union: DOA?

Program Note: Don't miss analysis by David Gergen and special coverage of the State of the Union Address tonight on CNN starting at 8 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/27/t1.obama.profile.flag.jpg width=300 height=169]

David Gergen | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

How often we have watched Barack Obama facing “the most important speech of his life” – Philadelphia, the Inaugural, Cairo, Afghanistan, etc., etc. Almost always he has risen to the occasion. But tonight’s State of the Union could require even more magic: for the first time he is delivering a message that looks virtually dead on arrival.

The past few days leading up to this speech have made clear that on his signature issues, the President is in deepening trouble:

Health Reform: Democratic leaders yesterday all but pronounced final rites over the mammoth health bill that has preoccupied Washington in recent months. The leaders said they wanted to postpone the fight for another day but everyone knows that with November elections looming, delay probably means death for universal coverage.

Cap and Trade: Legislative leaders have also made clear this week that prospects for a major cap and trade bill are finished for the year – another signature issue for Obama. Congress may pass some kind of energy bill but it will signal to the world that the U.S. isn’t yet on track to serious carbon reductions – and that in turn will place in further jeopardy the world-wide effort (China meanwhile has signaled that it may not even buy into the science of global warming.)

Job Creation: No one is quite sure what the President will propose tonight for new job measures, but CNN polls this week on the stimulus program of last year – showing that more than half of all Americans oppose it and three quarters believe that huge amounts have been wasted – show that he is running into stiff headwinds here, too. The House has passed a new $150 billion jobs bill but the Senate seems in little mood to match that. And the CBO has just projected that unemployment will remain stubbornly high for a long time to come.

Deficit Reduction: Concern about mountains of public debt are rising quickly among the public – that was one of the issues that Scott Brown rode to victory – and the President wants to use this speech tonight to convince people that he is a deficit hawk, too. But once again, the news of the past few days hasn’t been encouraging for the White House.

Tonight, for example, the President will propose a three-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending – that is, programs outside defense, homeland security, entitlements, etc. But Democrats are already pouncing on the freeze for giving up on campaign promises, and Republicans are deriding him for not being tough enough. And it is quickly dawning on the public that Obama wants to freeze spending for programs that have grown some 20 percent while he has been in office – hardly a bold step.

The deficit picture darkened further yesterday when the Senate rejected a bipartisan measure (supported by Obama and Brown) that would have set up a commission to force through long-term deficit reductions. When the President talks tonight about creating a commission on his own, everyone in Washington will know that it will be virtually toothless.

So, even before the President speaks tonight, it appears that serious deficit reduction will be almost impossible in Congress in this coming year. And the national debt will keep ballooning – by Associated Press estimates, the federal deficit this coming year will equal $4,500 for every American!

On four signature issues then – health care, cap and trade, jobs and deficits – the President’s agenda is in deep, deep trouble before he even steps to the podium tonight.

What must he do in his speech? This one is not just about the issues (though those are important). Nor is it simply whether the President moves to the center (I think he should).

Obama’s real challenge tonight is whether he can make Americans believe in him again. Millions are disappointed, others have turned against him. Can he persuade them tonight to give him a fresh chance? To sign up for a second round on his team? To rally behind him, thick or thin? That looks like the best –and perhaps the only – way he can revive a domestic agenda that, at best, is on life support.

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Rob

    oh...and why does it need to be DOA? Well, because when something is dead on arrival.....it's just that....DOA......plain and simple. Just like PUTSIS's (POTUS) speech last night.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  2. sam900

    I totally agree with David Gergen. Obama believes that he can use his oratory skill to persuade people, but he produces no result to support his clams. Nobody will continue to believe if you "cry wolf" too many times. Where is the beef, Obama?

    January 28, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  3. Fr Rick Rod

    I was rather impressed with President Obama's State of the Union Address. He spoke truth to power–more truth than probably the majority of republicans could absorb, and even a few democrats. President Obama's analysis of both national and world situations is correct, but beyond what most politicians can comprehend. There is a kind of reeducation of politicians going on. Knowledge maketh a bloody entrance! But onward!

    January 28, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  4. Darroll

    I hope he addresses broken promises:
    1. Transparency (Where did C-Span covered deliberations go?).
    2. Flip-Flops (he campained AGAINST taxing "cadillac" insurance coverage and AGAINST using Medicare monies for health care "reform")
    3. Posting bills on the internet for at least 5 days BEFORE a vote.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  5. Fr Rick Rod

    I was rather impressed with President Obama's State of the Union Address. He spoke truth to power–more power than probably the majority of republicans could absorb, and even a few democrats. President Obama's analysys of the national and world situation is correct, but beyond what most politicians can comprehend. There is a kind of reeducation going on for politicians. At long last!

    January 28, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  6. Bill S

    Does this Obama administration, not get it? I, voted for him, and this is not what we voted for!, do they think they can continue to fool us with this with a state of the union pep rally speechs and throw us a bone? I, checked out extensively what he said and it is cleverly deceivingly written, we don't have to bash the GOP, for making us look bad! were doing a pretty good job of it ourselves, those of us with a brain are not so easily fooled!

    January 28, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  7. EmptyVessels

    Patience and rationality is what is called for in this situation. Americans are generally smart people but very impatient and erratic politically. They wil argue and fight among themselves while the rest of the world are making constructive progress. America use to lead the world, in few years, they will be led by other emerging economies while they fight among themselves about ideology. Majority of Americans are so myopic that their stand on abortion alone can determine who they will support to lead this great country even if it means being led by imbecile.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  8. Walt Behringer

    His words actually reminded me of his campaigning all over again. The wedge between the 'just say NO' repubs will deepen and working together will only take place after the next election where Repubs sadly will take back many seats.
    The Glen Beck nutjobs following their brainwashing by the tv fool who chould be banned from television, will protest anything just to bring down Obama.
    This was not a good night for the President I so much admire.

    January 28, 2010 at 6:50 am |
  9. Robert Allen Johnson

    "He needs to succeed with or without the unwilling's help"

    Says who? If enough Americans are "unwilling" then he does not in fact, need to succeed. What he needs to do is lead, and convince the country to be "willing".

    And as long as there are very sizable portions of the population out there that are not "willing" then he isn't working hard enough.

    January 28, 2010 at 6:23 am |
  10. William A. Ruzin

    Job creation is the key to breathing life back into our ailing economy, but without a robust domestic industrial infrastructure, the cauldron where these good paying jobs used to be forged, this task is daunting indeed. Don't put the blame on the President, it should be placed squarely at the doorsteps of US industry which decided that the bottom line was more important than American workers and their families when they shipped this jobs to foreign markets. Who is able to buy goods, no matter how cheaply made in foreign lands, if one has no paycheck?

    January 28, 2010 at 5:56 am |
  11. Rodney

    Pres. Obama's speech should be about one item (jobs,jobs,jobs) of course to create jobs you have to cut taxes, deregulate, and for the Govt. to get out of the way. (I.E.) give the people more money-pay check and they will spend is it really that hard to figure out.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:13 am |
  12. Clem

    I Wish there was only one party, not Republican, not Democrat, nor Green party, it should call “Common Sense”.
    Wake up America.
    Help the president help you. The Republican Party will do everything to stop President Obama.
    The Republican Party disagrees with the president even when the president is agreed with them.
    They only have one thing in mind “ Next Election”

    January 28, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  13. Elliott Wolf

    I remember going to lunch in the House dining room , sitting with Dems and Republicans..enjoying each others company and sharing ideas. What has happened to our democratic ideals and collaboration is sad commentary.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  14. Dee

    Gees..give the president a break America...he's not superman. We should support and worked together with him to make America better than before. Remember he's trying to fix Bush mistake before ^.^ so give him more time and have faith!!

    January 28, 2010 at 12:46 am |
  15. KC

    I agree. So much of this seems like too little too late. The President made the mistake of promising everything and delivering nothing. Once again he gave a moving speech that amounted to no concrete details and a lot of hot air.

    January 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  16. jo

    The State of the Union speech was indeed DOA. The last thing we needed to listen to was a sermon and a recitation of promises that
    can't be fulfilled.

    January 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  17. Jean

    I've had it. Vote out all the incumbents, this year and in 2012..

    January 27, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  18. Gary Young

    He should take a cue from Republican champion Sarah Palin and resign.

    January 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  19. Ethiolion

    Why is the Party of NO are not happy tonight?

    January 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  20. Karen

    I really like you David Gergen, but I'm a little tired of listening to the pundits kill Obama before he actually says anything. I still also want to know how he is going to ever do anything with Congress the way it is and with the total game plan of "compromise means we don't vote for anything unless they do it completely our way, and even then we might not" Republicans.

    January 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  21. Tom

    Mr. Gergen I have always appreciated your level headed approach to the analysis of the D.C. political environment. Tonight I am saddened by the accuracy of your report. It is highly unfortunate that the political landscape has and continues to lay barriers to progress for the every day American Citizen. Protecting ones' special interests over the interests of the American people has led us to this place in time. I pray for the president, his staff, the federal and local government leaders and all American citizens that we will each look at what we can do today and tomorrow to make a difference.

    January 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  22. Eric T

    Obama has done everything I voted for him to do. He can't make half of congress do what they don't want to do.

    January 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  23. kww

    Mr. Gergen says he thinks the President should "move to the center". Who knows where the center is any more ? Republicans have pulled "the center" so far to the right it is ludicrous. What's Mr. Gergen's definition of centrist policies ?

    January 27, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  24. Dick Nickerson

    He is America's President. I don't want him to fail. When I hear people say "I want My country back." I say to myself , "we elected him, he is our country's president! Give him a chance to do his job." Oh, by the way, I've been a republican my whole life until this election, I voted for Obama.

    January 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  25. Jim Phalen

    David G. gives an honest and accurate description of the difficulties tonight's speech presents. I think Obama's presidency is DOA; if he moves significantly to the center he will be ripped visciously from both sides and if he stays far left he will accomplish nothing (which might be a good thing).

    January 27, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  26. Marie

    Why does it need to be DOA? Have some faith America! Give the president a break and a chance. Work with him! He cannot do it alone! Remember, this is America! He needs to succeed with or without the unwilling's help! I agree Scott Brown is a winner by himself, So is Barrack Obama! The GOP are still loosers! Some of them are no better than the sum in the Haitian Government! A bunch of corrupted individuals and loosers!

    January 27, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  27. Rita Nalette (Reyes)

    i'd like to know how POTUS plans to deal with the Pusillanimous Polecats that refuse to work across the isle.

    and about those lost in Haiti – They came from God and they have returned to Him. Prayers for the living.

    January 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm |