George Packer has a tip:
The only useful purpose the State of the Union could serve is to put the President’s stamp on the agenda of the coming year. And the only way for that to happen is if he says something memorable. Very few memorable things have been said on this occasion. I can think offhand of Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in 2002, and Clinton’s “save Social Security first” line in 1998, and very little else.
I don't buy this. What he needs to do is remind Americans of the reason they elected him: to get hard things done. I guess a rhetorical catch-phrase helps, but I think Obama needs to avoid any gimmicks of this kind. I have one simple argument I think he should make in some way at some point - directed, again, at independent voters.
We already have a form of socialized medicine. By guaranteeing that anyone can get emergency care, even if they cannot afford it, we have a system that is already collectivist. The question is simply whether this wasteful, super-expensive, unplanned socialism - that manages to leave 40 million without insurance at all, while escalating costs for anyone with it - can be made more rational, less wasteful and more productive.
He should argue that it would be better to get the emergency care handled up-front with cheaper preventative care by bringing all those free-riders into the system and having them contribute to it. The health reform bill is an attempt to prevent free-riding in a way that will make people already with health insurance more secure.
He also needs to make the core moral argument again. Without it, the whole purpose disintegrates. Remind people of the awful consequences of the status quo, the inability of countless individuals to get any health insurance at all because of pre-existing conditions, the caprice with which patients are suddenly denied care, the cruelty and profound insecurity that it creates. He should focus too on how the current system hurts the economy by making the labor force less mobile, because the risk of trying something new is compounded by the fear of losing health insurance. You do not want an economy where business decisions are made on those grounds.
I know it's a lot to work into a seamless whole. But it's his most critical speech yet. And Favreau and the gang are up to it.