Obama’s coalition of the willing and unable

Every year, as the Constitution requires, the President delivers a State of the Union address. And every year, as tradition dictates, he gives a commencement speech at one of the military academies, does a standup routine at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and announces his pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey. In President Obama’s case, he also generally delivers, around this time of a year, a hugely hyped speech that aims to right his listing Presidency and provide clarity to a picture that he himself has muddied.

On September 9, 2009, the issue was health care. Obama addressed a joint session of Congress about his reform plan after a long, hot summer of Tea Party town halls and Presidential passivity. “His advisers knew it was long past time for him to assert himself in a more demonstrable way or risk seeing the entire enterprise slip away,” Dan Balz reported the next day, in the Washington Post.On September 8, 2011, stymied by a stalling economic recovery and sinking approval ratings—his lowest to date—Obama went before Congress to launch the American Jobs Act and revive his Presidency. Last September 11th, the President spoke on Syria in the East Room, a speech made necessary by his own, and his Administration’s, failure to outline a consistent approach to the crisis. And, last night, again at the White House, he sought to answer the question of whether he does (as he said on August 18th) or does not (as he conceded, more memorably, on August 28th) have a strategy to counter the growing political power of Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria.

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