msnbc | February 10, 2013
>>> on tuesday night, president obama will deliver his fourth state of the union address . white house officials tell us the speech will largely focus on the middle class . the big question remains, if the fiercely liberal president to emerge in the inaugural address , will make a second showing. joining me now is james peterson , director of afrikaner studies at lehigh university and historian at rice university . hi, guys. good to see you both. james , do you expect to hear the kind of liberal pronouncements we got in the inaugural address ?
>> i don't think liberals think the inaugural address was liberal? we kind of believed that on issues such as immigration and climate change , equity for women and people of color in this country, those are common sense, american issues. yes, i do think the president will be addressing some of these issues in the state of the union , and i think he's going to -- the strategy, at least according to the white house , is he's going to tie these things to the economy. comprehensive immigration reform has economic benefits, moving towards a green economy , wrestling with climate change , these things all have economic impact, and i think those are the connections the president will be trying to make.
>> james , the focus on the middle class , what do you want to hear there?
>> one, i'd like to hear him focus on poor folk , and i'd like to hear him explain how the sequester directly impacts the safety net and the security and other concerns for the poorest people in this country. of course, we don't want to burden the middle class any more than it has been in terms of recovering from the economic downturn of the last administration. i would love to see the president reach beyond the middle class and speak specifically to the issues of the poorest folk in this country.
>> one of the big headlines out of the inaugural as the president's mention of gay marriage rights. do you expect any policy announcements on that?
>> i don't know that it might be mentioned, but i'm doubtful. this is going to be a valentine to the middle class . he is going to be the great defender of the people, whether it's policemen or teachers or firemen, electricians, people that are working for a living that are struggle because what's been elusive in the obama years is how to bring that unemployment number further downwards towards 5%, say. so it's going to be jobs, jobs, jobs. but they will be a part and parcel as professor patterson said, about the injustice in the economy, but it's all about the downtrodden middle class in the end.
>> there's a really good piece in "the washington post " but john sullivan that argues this is president obama 's most important state of the union address . 2014 tempered by the midterms. 2015 , his power nearly over. 2016 really a farewell speech . what do you think of that assessment?
>> i don't categorically accept this short-term look at the president's ability to have impact on this nation. i think there will be issues that will determine and shape how those state of the unions and how they function and whether or not they'll have certain impacts. it depends on what happens in this country over the next several years as to whether or not those state of the union addresses can have a certain kind of impact. remember that last one is going to be about legacy. i wouldn't undermine or think little of what that could be once we get to that particular point.
>> on the heels of that, douglas , how do second term state of the union addresses typically differ from first term ones?
>> the state of the union is supposed to be what the state of the country is. i would imagine barack obama is going to want to talk about the progress that's been made since he gave his first one, how we've gotten out of iraq, how we've been vigilant on the war on terrorism . i think it's always a crowd pleaser to mention the troops. president obama isn't just talking to a joint session of congress . ever since the advent of television and harry truman 's administrati administration, they're using it to talk to the american people in primetime, and he's got to sell his economic program to the american people , and that's what the speech is all about. it's always been about that since the advent of tv.
>> are there state of the union addresses that go down in history for you, douglas ? if so, give me the top one or two.
>> james monroe , 1923 , the monroe doctrine . you have the great one of fdr in january of 1941 , the four free many dos. you have in '64, lyndon johnson announcing his war on poverty . all that great society domestic legislation. and then, of course, george w. bush in 2002 when he had the axis of evil speech against north korea , iran, and iraq.
>> james , how about you? how do you rate actually the president's state of the union speeches thus far? look at the last four.
>> when you look at the last couple, where he's really thinking about the wind down of the iraq war and honoring veterans, you can see some of the things that you'll see on tuesday because he's also talking about the economy and immigration and that one. if you go back to 2011 and look at how he tried to use the moment around the gabby giffords tragedy to talk about public and private compromise, democratic compromise. you'll see the themes on tuesday that will pick up on themes from his earlier ones. it's sprg to see how he'll frame it. gabby giffords framed one. end of the iraq war framed one. what exactly is going to frame this speech on tuesday is a good question to consider.
>> dugdouglas, can i ask you, is this typically his third state of the union and not the fourth? is the first speech addressing a joint session of congress ?
>> i think i consider it a state of the union any time after you come in. i just mentioned lyndon johnson in '64, he hadn't been elected when he gave the war on poverty one, and it's considered one of the great state of the union addresses. this is an important speech for the president. i think newtown might be a theme that's re-brought up again. he mentioned it the at the inaugural, and i think gun control is going to be a major part of his plank.
>> for what it's worth, i would sure love to see that myself. james patterson , douglas