President Obama tried out his soul music falsetto last week at New York's Apollo Theater and he sounded pretty good. It might help if he sang his State of the Union address, but not much.
It wouldn't help because -- from what we know of the man and from the trial balloons he's floated in the gigolo media -- Obama wants a season of confrontation, not a year of compromise. He wants issues, not accomplishments.
Obama's tactic -- angry words spoken calmly -- has played well from the beginning of his presidential campaign four years ago. In his first meeting with the Republican caucus in the House three years ago, Obama answered Republican objections by saying, "I won."
Since then, his rhetoric has only increased in temperature. His mantra is "we can't wait." His threat is that he will act without congressional approval if he can't get agreement on his terms.
In the SOTU speech, according to a trial balloon in the New York Times, Obama will demand more "clean energy" investment, more taxation of "the rich" and -- in a string of liberal code words -- legislation aimed at "income equality," which means taking wealth from the "rich" and giving it to the government.
It's fortunate that Republicans chose Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to give the response to Obama's address. Daniels is a solid conservative and doesn't speak in overheated rhetorical terms. Daniels sees fiscal responsibility as a moral issue. Last September, he told a CNN interviewer that our economic mess is an existential issue. Daniels said, "What's troubling me most is it's not just our economy at stake, I think it's the whole American prospect."
On national security, Daniels has demonstrated an understanding far deeper than that of Obama's. Just a few days after the SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, he told a Fox News interviewer that bin Laden's death didn't mark an end to the war. When the interviewer argued with him, he said, "This was a very significant achievement, tremendously powerful from a symbolic standpoint. Operationally, I assume of some importance too. But with everyone else, I think we all accept that it's just one real important moment in what will be a continuing conflict and continuing responsibility to the government."
Daniels is in the right position at the right time to set the Republican path for 2012. Here are a few ideas he might use. Some are obvious, others less so.
Daniels will highlight the fact that the day of the State of the Union address is an unhappy anniversary. It marks 1,000 days since the Democratic-controlled Senate has passed a budget. He can make it clear that the House has done its job, and that voters' anger at congressionally driven wasteful spending should be focused on the Democrats and their leader, President Obama. He can -- and should -- say that America's economy can't recover until Obama is out of office.
Newt Gingrich has started to make energy an issue. Obama's action stopping the Keystone pipeline, coupled with his renewed call for investment in "clean energy" -- see, e.g., Solyndra -- comes at the time when Cuba is about to begin drilling for oil in international waters close to Florida. As the Washington Examiner reported Sunday, Repsol, the Spanish energy company, is about to begin drilling in international waters claimed by Cuba about 70 miles off the Florida Keys. And Canadian PM Stephen Harper has made it clear that if the Keystone pipeline isn't built going south to the United States, it will be built going west and the oil will be shipped to China.
Daniels should make it clear that the United States is energy-rich, kept energy-poor only by Obama and his rent-seeking global warmist allies. He should promise that Republicans will work hard to thwart Obama's energy depression and that if a Republican is elected to the presidency, will work with Harper to make sure that Canadian oil comes here and doesn't go to China. This is a promise to Harper that Gingrich and Romney should make forthwith.
While everyone is focused on the Republican primaries, Daniels can look ahead to November when his party can not only hold the House but take over the Senate. To do that, as Daniels knows, they have to reach the social moderate/fiscal conservative people we used to label "Reagan Democrats." If he speaks directly to them, Daniels can start building the coalition that will win across the board. There are two things he can do Tuesday night to begin that process.
First, though the unemployment rate is trending downward, it is still over 8 percent. People are hurting and Obama's address will offer more empty promises, more spending, and a continuation of the oxymoronic "jobless recovery" we've been in for a year. Daniels should begin this part of his speech by pointing out that most of the "drop" in unemployment is attributable to people giving up on getting a job. From December 2010 to December 2011, about 1,478,000 Americans dropped out of the workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Daniels can say that the reason for those people dropping out of the workforce is Obama's no-growth policies. There's a plethora of Republican plans to restore growth which will inevitably increase the number of jobs available and restore American productivity. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, now head of the Free Congress Foundation, has an excellent plan which doesn't require magic or miracles to pull off. Daniels can outline the best features of these plans and contrast them with Obama's plans. If he does, it will resonate with the Reagan Dems. They know Obama's promises of economic growth are hollow.
This year, both parties in Congress will be fighting with and against the Obama campaign on federal spending. The failure of the "supercommittee" and the resulting threat of sequestration of $600 billion in defense spending -- on top of the $400 billion Obama has already cut -- is disconnected from reality. Daniels should issue a strong call to prevent those cuts, whatever the final amount may be, from cutting muscle rather than fat. He can say that Republicans favor a thorough review of the Pentagon and intelligence community budgets to see what we can cut -- the fat -- while ensuring that we have the muscle to deter or defeat the threats America faces.
Obama's State of the Union speech will be nothing more than a campaign speech. In earlier SOTU's Obama has used his calm, angry words to attack the Congress and the Supreme Court. Daniels can and should mock him for it. Americans know that those in the audience cannot respond to Obama's rudeness. When a president's falsity results in a sitting Supreme Court justice mouthing "not true" in view of the cameras as Justice Alito did two years ago in Obama's attack on the court for the Citizens United decision on campaign finance, it's out of bounds. Obama will state more falsehoods this time, and Daniels should call him out on each and every one.
Last, and not least, the gigolo media are a legitimate issue in this campaign, a powerful one for Republicans as Newt Gingrich demonstrated just before the South Carolina primary. Daniels should capitalize on this by telling Obama's amen chorus in the media that Republicans will gladly join that battle and hold them up to the ridicule they deserve every day from now until November 6. It's a winner, governor, and a card you can't be reluctant to play.