The Washington Post

Obama’s State of the Union speech to focus on ‘return to American values’

President Obama will use his State of the Union address on Tuesday to deliver an election-year message focused on economic fairness for the middle class and what he calls “a return to American values.”

In a video distributed to campaign supporters Saturday morning, the president said his speech before Congress should be viewed as his “blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” a slogan designed to evoke blue-collar imagery and draw contrasts with his Republican rivals.

Among the new initiatives Obama is seeking to promote is a greater emphasis on American manufacturing, homegrown energy sources and worker training.

Obama suggested that his third State of the Union would bookend the populist themes of his speech last month in Osawatomie, Kan., by laying out the specific steps his administration is taking to achieve a more equitable economy and amplifying his vision of a society that provides greater opportunity to the middle class.

“We can go in two directions. One is towards less opportunity and less fairness,” Obama said in the video, which was released by his reelection campaign. “Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. On Tuesday night, I’m going to talk about how we’ll get there.”

Obama’s appearance in the House chamber will provide the president with a national platform to effectively launch his reelection campaign.

Republican presidential candidates have attacked his economic policies, holding his administration responsible for the slow recovery from the financial crash. And GOP members of Congress have sought to block the president’s economic agenda, stalling most of the provisions of his $447 billion American Jobs Act.

During a fall barnstorming tour across the country, Obama championed the idea that higher-income Americans should pay more in taxes to provide revenue for investments that could jump-start the economy and boost job creation. But Republicans balked at a time of fast-growing national debt.

In his State of the Union address, however, Obama is expected to renew his calls for many of those jobs provisions, including investments in infrastructure and education, as well as a full extension of the payroll tax cut that is set to expire next month.

And Obama said he will focus Tuesday on several other critical sectors, including manufacturing and energy, in an effort to boost homegrown jobs at a time of 8.5 percent unemployment.

In the video, the president reiterated previous calls for the manufacturing of more products “stamped with Made in America” and said he wants to “get people the training they need so they’re ready to take the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

He called these themes “big ideas” that are part of the central mission of the nation — and his presidency.

“That’s rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded — and an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules,” Obama said.

He added that “we’ve got to meet this moment. And this speech is going to be about how we do it.”

Obama will embark on a three-day, five-state tour of battleground states after his State of the Union address, a strategy aimed at keeping his message heard as his Republican presidential rivals continue their competition for the GOP nomination in a series of primaries that moves to Florida this week.

The president opens the tour in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday before moving to cities in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan. Obama won all of those states in 2008 except Arizona, but the president is eyeing that state’s growing Hispanic population as a potential voting bloc that could carry him to victory there this year.

With three days remaining, Obama said he has yet to finish writing his address, “so there might be a few late nights between now and then.” And he made sure to ask his supporters to use the occasion to rally behind his campaign and “make plans for the next 10 months.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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