When newspapers ask a bunch of people to give advice to the president for the State of the Union address, it's a sure-fire formula for the contestants to ride their favorite hobby horses. And, sure enough, the New York Times' speech advice feature has the gay rights lobbyist who wants to him focus on gay rights, the tax cut maven who wants him to promise tax cuts for business, the deficit scold who wants him to emphasize the deficit, etc. But here from Jim Kessler is some genuinely useful advice:
“The President ought to make long term economic growth the theme of his State of the Union. He should declare that with the passage of health care reform, America’s 85-year quest to weave a strong safety net is now complete. From there he would describe a clear, tangible, and compelling destination for the nation – that of American excellence. It is a destination where America has the strongest, most vibrant, and most advanced economy on earth.”
What makes this such a good idea is that it's a highly effective way for Obama to assure moderates that he's not a big government liberal, and it's also totally accurate. There has been an enormous hole in the American welfare state, and now that the U.S. has finally joined every other advanced nation in ensuring that people won't get sick and go bankrupt or die due to lack of health insurance, that hole is filled.
Framing the issue this way would allow Obama both to defend health care reform, by placing it within the historic context of Medicare and Social Security, and to frame his pivot away from expanding the welfare state. The historic opportunity to reform health care combined with the historic challenge of the economic crisis created a situation where it was easy for moderates to interpret Obama's agenda as a voracious drive to increase the size of government wherever possible. That wasn't the case, and this is a chance for Obama to show it wasn't the case without actually changing his plans.