Obama’s approach, as described by several senior administration officials, will flip the emphasis of his second inaugural address.
In that speech, Obama argued stridently for social equality through an expansion of gay rights, citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and the moral imperative of reducing gun violence and confronting climate change. White House officials acknowledge that he may have overshadowed his underlying message of economic fairness as a result.
On Tuesday evening, Obama will mention issues such as gun control, immigration and climate change primarily in an economic context: job opportunities in clean-energy technology, the fair-play benefits of a legal labor force, and safe schools as a way to drive economic growth.
“If the second inaugural outlined what the president believes is the charge for America over the course of his second term, then this address will be a return to middle-class economics and what the president believes must be done on that front,” said a second senior administration official, who like the first discussed the speech only on the condition of anonymity.
Obama’s return to an overtly economic message is supported in part by polls.
Since his reelection, Obama has sought to move quickly on immigration legislation, hoping the Republicans’ poor showing last year among the fast-growing Latino electorate will provide urgent incentive to act before the midterm congressional races.
In addition, Obama has elevated gun control to a top domestic priority after the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults.
Obama has also made clear that he intends to do more to address global warming, including the possible use of executive action to regulate factory pollution. He featured the issue in his second inaugural address after expressing personal regret to aides and environmental groups that he did not accomplish more on the issue during his first term.
But recent polling points to a gulf between what Obama has been talking most about publicly since his reelection and what most concerns the American electorate. Far and away, the economy remains the public’s greatest worry.
A Pew Research Center poll published late last month found that the “economy,” “jobs” and the “budget deficit” top the list as the three most cited concerns of respondents. By contrast, “illegal immigration,” “strengthening gun laws” and “global warming” ranked 17th, 18th and 21st.
William A. Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Clinton, said he was struck by Obama’s emphasis in his second inaugural address on social issues rather than economic ones, even as the president sought to draw a line between them.
Galston described Obama’s message as a call for “equality though inclusion” for gay people, for women in the workforce, and even for those alienated from politics by long voting lines and other obstacles to participation.