Tuesday, January 25, 2011

President Obama’s Leadership Skills Put to the Test With Prime Time State of the Union Address

Tonight, President Obama will address members of Congress and the nation in his much-anticipated “State of the Union.” While the speech provides an opportunity to confront the nation’s unemployment and to offer plans for economic recovery, it also marks the opening sprint of the 2012 presidential election marathon. From this point forward, everything the President does – from speeches to his executive orders and in multiple daily sound bites – will receive even more scrutiny from the media and become fodder for his 2012 political adversaries.

In this speech, the President must rise above the politics of the next election and instead offer a clear and pragmatic vision for our nation’s future. Instead of focusing on the pettiness of partisanship, President Obama must make the case to the American people that he has listened to our concerns, developed a strong plan to move our nation out of the economic doldrums and is prepared to restore America to its rightful place as a global economic leader. Simply put, the President’s message must be: jobs, jobs and more jobs.

The backdrop of tonight’s State of the Union includes the recent tragedy in Arizona, which claimed the lives of six Americans and nearly cost one of our elected officials her life. President Obama spoke eloquently at the memorial for victims of the shooting, and tonight, he must continue to lead our nation into an era of greater civility and decorum in politics. Expect him to highlight the heroes of the tragedy and to speak to the need to find consensus on issues, instead of deepening our political divide.

Presidents rarely make history during their State of the Union speeches, but given the challenges that are ahead for our nation, President Obama must use tonight’s speech as an historic turning point: to provide the American people with the leadership they so eagerly want and deserve. Will his policies be more of the same? Or will the President’s agenda contain many of the ideas championed by candidates who were swept into power following the Republican Party’s decisive victory in November?

President Obama’s party no longer has a monopoly on the Executive and Legislative Branches, and he now must work with Republicans. Tonight’s speech will be one of the first real tests of his Presidency that will help determine if his legacy will be statesman-like or partisan.

On a deeper, more human level, President Obama needs to reconnect Americans to his leadership by appealing to their pure patriotism, best emotional instincts and demonstrating anew the oratorical skills that helped him win the nation’s confidence, and the job, in 2008.

- Ron Sachs