WASHINGTON — Seizing a chance to reconnect, President Obama will use his first State of the Union address to try to persuade the people of a frustrated nation that he's on their side, with a familiar sounding agenda recast to relate better to everyday struggles.
In a time of deep economic insecurity, Obama will use this stage on Wednesday to offer hope after a grueling, grinding first year of his presidency, aides say. For the many who think the United States is still on the wrong track, Obama will attempt to present a clearer sense of how everything he's pursuing fits together to help.
For jittery Democrats facing re-election this fall, Obama will seek to give them an agenda they can sell to voters.
Obama will propose ways to help the middle class. But any new ideas probably will play a supporting role to the plainspoken narrative he wants to tell, that his agenda works for people despite their growing doubts.
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"Obviously you want to write a speech in a way that is interesting enough that people want to listen, and that leaves them feeling a sense of momentum and progress," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod told the Associated Press. "But these are serious times. I don't think this is a time for rhetorical flights of fancy."
What to expect in the speech, which comes during a rocky period for Obama?
Heavy doses of health care, despite the setbacks of the past week, and job creation. Obama will address the budget deficit, his bid to take on the financial industry, energy, education and immigration. All those issues, he says, fit into his plan to rebuild the economy.
On national security, he will address terrorist threats, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and nuclear disputes with Iran and North Korea.
Recent big events won't escape notice, such as Haiti's humanitarian crisis and the Supreme Court ruling allowing businesses and labor unions more power to influence elections. Obama will directly confront a seething frustration with Washington, evident in Republican Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts that rattled Democrats and cost Obama the voting bloc he needed in the Senate.
It all points to the message Obama wants to convey: Yes, I get it.
Obama is emerging from a year in Washington that, he now says, has left the public with a sense of "remoteness and detachment" from what he's been trying to do.
The president says his agenda is not about him. But in important ways, this speech will be.