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President Obama’s speech tonight is shaping up to be a wonkier sequel to his unabashedly liberal Inaugural Address, which has Washington wondering if the president will find some way to reach out to Republicans.
But the whole discussion over olive branches and aisle crossing misses the point. It doesn't matter whether or how Obama uses his speech to reach out to the GOP. Republicans are almost certainly going to pan it as an overreach as they try to yank the debate rightward.
What the president should do—and what few are talking about—is signal that he’s willing to do the messy work of legislating. Both Democrats, privately, and Republicans, publicly, grouse that the president is more interested in campaigning than sitting down with congressional leaders to do the hard work of lawmaking—witness Obama’s plan to reinforce tonight’s speech with campaign-style swings this week through North Carolina, Atlanta, and Chicago.
Still, there does seem to be some hope. Democratic senators working on immigration reform plan to brief Obama later this week. If Obama uses his speech to signal an openness to similar meetings with congressional leaders of both parties, he may just get something done.
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