Obama’s Shrinking Agenda

David Graham expects Obama to go small tonight:

Don’t tune in looking for a sweeping vision for transforming America: The White House has been telegraphing that this speech will feature the familiar litany of policy proposals but few grand ideas. (If it’s anything else, the White House has faked the press out very effectively.) That’s a recognition of reality. As the death of gun control and immigration reform show, Obama can’t force his ideas through a Republican House, and he can’t rely on getting anything past a filibuster in the Senate, either. Add to that jittery lawmakers facing voters in November’s midterm elections and you get a recipe for smallbore ideas.

Kilgore dreads tonight’s speech:

This year’s SOTU will likely represent an agenda of items the president thinks he can accomplish on his own, perhaps with a shout-out to an immigration reform contingency that Republican feel compelled to entertain as a possibility, perhaps a defiant defense of the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the long-awaited peroration on inequality (though the latest buzz is that Obama will return to the less threatening language of “opportunity,” which suggests some extensive focus-grouping). The president will be subject to vast exercises in armchair psychology as his mood, his energy-level, his “resolve,” are evaluated by way of how he delivers a rehearsed prepared text.

Sargent explains Obama’s executive-action plan:

Scott Wilson has a must read on what’s really driving the new thinking. Short version: Obama advisers have concluded that he’s coming across as too much of a prisoner of the Congressional stalemate that has resulted from GOP obstructionism.

Resorting to executive authority is also about resetting the prism through which the American people evaluate the president’s performance and his engagement with them — by conveying a sense that he has a plan to move the country forward, and he’s acting on it.

John Dickerson goes into more detail:

The president and his team say he will take executive action on the environment and the economy, with a special emphasis on improving social mobility. This may require a smaller definition of action and promoting a longer timeline for results than administrations usually use. An aide described one of the president’s proposed actions as merely “starting a conversation.” Or, the president might simply try to cajole CEOs of private companies.

Sometimes the president will hope to just plant a program he hopes will grow in other administrations. Earlier this month the president announced the creation of a manufacturing hub in North Carolina to spur innovation. It’s a tiny version of a larger program he proposed in last year’s State of the Union address. It won’t have a big effect on the economy, but if the program succeeds perhaps it will create the appetite for developing it further in later administrations.

Ambers zooms out:

As much as Republicans are carping today about the president’s imperial power grab, which apparently consists of recess appointments and strongly worded missives, the importance attached to the State of the Union says as much about the evolution of the presidency as it does about the president in power. Our political culture does not really recognize three equal branches. Only one gets the opportunity to set an agenda. (The “response” doesn’t count. When was the last response that actually moved anything?) The SOTU is important to America as a ritual reminder of the president’s monarchic status, subordinated just that night to the power of the people, who invited him there, who keep him captive, just long enough for them to listen to him, shake his hand, and then send him off.