By Boris Volkhonsky
While President Barack Obama is finalizing the details of his State of the Union address to be delivered on Tuesday, America is engaged in guesswork whether his speech is going to be the last one.
“The setting: An election-year State of the Union address before a hostile Congress,” writes White House correspondent for The Washington Post Scott Wilson. “Since the last one, the world has changed fundamentally, a war with Iraq has ended, and the nation’s economy is fragile and worrying to a majority of Americans.”
And further, Wilson puts up a question, “President Obama? No. George H.W. Bush in his 1992 State of the Union address, delivered 10 months before voters made him a one-term president.”
In fact, too many factors point to a strong probability of Barack Obama becoming the first president in two decades not to be re-elected after his first term. Economic problems including high unemployment rate, low approval ratings against the background of Republican-controlled Congress, all these factors make the President’s task in November a tough one and demand some decisive steps, with the State of the Union address being one of his most important resorts.
What is most worrying for Obama is the fact that, according to the latest polls, he is losing support among independent and swing voters – that is, among the electorate that so eagerly supported him in 2008. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly two-thirds of independents disapprove of the way he has managed the economy, while his overall approval rating is about 48 percent.
52 percent of Americans say that Obama has accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” as president. And above all, for the first time ever, in a hypothetical matchup against Mitt Romney the score is 47 to 46 in favor of the latter.
Still, the situation does not seem to be completely hopeless for Barack Obama. Although his approval rating is below 50 percent, it is much better than the 42 percent last fall. The unemployment rate is about 8.5 percent – which is rather high, but still better than it was four months ago and two years prior to that when it consistently hovered around or above 9 percent.
Still, much of the hope cannot be attributed to Barack Obama’s achievements, but rather to the drawbacks of his Republican rivals. As South Carolina primaries have shown, the G.O.P. is still unable to come out with one unquestionable leader. The contenders seem to be much more preoccupied with criticizing each other than trying to build a united front against the Democratic President. The longer the uncertainty and the inner fight within the Republican Party lingers, the better are Obama’s chances for re-election.
More so, the confusion in the Republican camp gives the President an opportunity to turn his defeats into a strong pre-election argument. Being unable to push some important legislation through Republican-controlled House, Barack Obama has a chance to build his campaign on a populist message referring to the “obstructionist” Congress which torpedoes such legislation.
And there is good reason to believe that such an argument might work after all. At least, the Congress’ approval rating is much lower than that of the President. One year after G.O.P.’s sweeping electoral victory, 84 percent of Americans say that they disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with almost two-thirds saying they “disapprove strongly.”
This leads to a possibility that in November, Americans will have to choose the lesser of the two evils. Thus, being one of the least successful presidents in recent U.S. history, Obama can after all avoid the fate of his predecessors such as Jimmy Carter or George W.H. Bush.