Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today's State of the SOTU

As we noted yesterday, this January has featured little of the traditional build-up to and buzz around the State of the Union.  One meaty exception to this exceptionally quiet SOTU season is the special issue the Washington Monthly put out around the New Year — and before the Tuscon shootings — offering the president advice from a select group of bipartisan experts. 

It's easily the most substantive discussion we have seen yet about what Obama should say next week and we'd encourage you speech junkies to check it out.  Among the more notable tipsters:  Howard Dean, former Clinton Domestic Policy Advisor Bill Galston (a Gotham favorite), former Reagan and Bush economic advisor Bruce Bartlett, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, and Georgetown historian Michael Kazin.

One of the most interesting and counter-intuitive recommendations comes from Gotham friend and former Clinton national security speechwriter Heather Hurlburt (now the executive director of the National Security Network).  She argues that instead of following convention during tough economic times and burying defense issues at the end of the speech, the president should lead with them —and frame our domestic challenges as a national security threat.
The military is now the most respected institution in American life, and by far the most respected part of government. But relatively few Americans recognize that military planners at the Pentagon consider “domestic issues” to be front-burner strategic concerns.For a pragmatic—even progressive—approach on issues from education to energy to deficit reduction, they may be your greatest ally. But the American people won’t know that unless you tell them.

What they do know is that we are fighting two protracted wars abroad, contending with a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear-aspiring Iran, and seeming to stand still while China and others enjoy an economic and strategic surge. Domestically, they know we are struggling to create new jobs, succumbing to a spirit of lowered expectations, and mired in an era of divisive politics. But those are just the immediate-term realities that we face as Americans. The public looks to you for a way to see beyond them with a vision of the future—and the part of our government that has the resources and the remit to think most rigorously about the long view is our military. In your speech, Mr. President, you should use the military’s hard-nosed assessments of the future to bolster your own vision, and to inspire Congress and the American people to take decisive action.
Think this could work?  How about the other ideas the magazine is promoting?  We'd love to hear from the speechwriting community about the pros — and especially the cons —of these rhetorical recommendations.

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