The Washington Post

Head games before the State of the Union

President Obama President Obama delivering his 2012 State of the Union address (Saul Loeb / AP)

President Obama’s corner men are predicting very different fighting styles for tomorrow night’s State of the Union speech. In one scenario, the champ will fight southpaw, echoing the more liberal themes of his inaugural address, and continue to press an aggressive case against the rope-a-dope Republicans. In another, the president will come out more cautiously, concentrating almost exclusively on the economy and the deficit, two issues, which pundits note, are the focus of voters.

These pre-speech head games are common, and the various feints of direction have reportedly so rattled Marco Rubio, the Republican chosen to answer the president, that he has thrown out his first draft to fashion a more aggressive response. (By the way, responding to State of the Union speeches is a false prize in politics; it almost always pales by comparison.)

The different agendas among policy and political aides in the White House may account for perhaps the conflicting accounts of the speech. In the first term, there was often a split between the wonks and operatives, the former favoring a more centrist agenda on the economy and the budget, and the latter pursuing a more aggressive leveraging of the president’s base to oppose Republican obstructionism and enact a more progressive agenda.

My guess is that this president, as all presidents before him, picks and chooses among seemingly conflicting advice to fashion his own approach. My guess is that this speech, like many State of the Union speeches, will have something for both sides and everything in between.

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