Obama has some persuading to do tonight


In the midst of a severe recession, UI political-science experts say President Obama will have yet another Herculean job during tonight’s prime-time economic address.

“How do you get people to have confidence, but at the same time be realistic?” political-science Associate Professor Cary Covington asked, noting that solving such a conundrum is “his job, not mine.”

Tasked with the difficult balancing act, Obama will speak before a joint session of Congress tonight, looking to persuade skeptical rank-and-file Republicans and some other Americans that his ambitious economic plan is the appropriate one.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a young star in the Republican Party and a fierce critic of what he perceives as wasteful spending in the stimulus package, will deliver the GOP response to Obama’s speech.

In the address, Covington said the president will have to “explain why the stimulus package is purely stimulative spending and not liberal programs in stimulative clothing.”

Channeling the fiscal conservatism that was arguably lost during the Bush years, Covington said congressional Republicans’ stalwart opposition to the stimulus package has struck a chord with some voters.

“I think Republicans have found a way of portraying Obama’s plan that resonates with voters,” Covington said. “And I think he has to do more than just say, ‘you have to spend to stimulate.’ ”

Still, polls show the American populace generally supports Obama’s stimulus plan. A recent CNN survey showed 60 percent of respondents favored the package. And a February Gallup poll found that 59 percent of those polled approved of Obama’s handling of the economy.

The president’s approval ratings are similar: Gallup placed it at 63 percent on Monday. Recent polls show approval ratings for congressional Republicans to be in the low 30s.

Although UI College Republicans events coordinator Kyle Schwarz’s tone wasn’t as sharply dogmatic as some fellow Republicans, he also remained skeptical about the effectiveness of the package.

“His optimism is admirable and how he can sway people is astounding, but it’s really early to tell in the first 30 days,” he said. “I also just don’t know ultimately what effect the stimulus will have.”

Political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said another key for Obama in his address tonight will be divulging additional details about the recently-passed stimulus package — specifically, where the billions of dollars are going, and how it will help jump-start the stagnant economy.

In addition, Hagle said a successful speech would move away from the “doom and gloom” rhetoric he said Obama has been employing frequently as of late.

“The guy gives a great speech, so he may be able to inspire some people,” Hagle said. “But he needs to get away from that doom and gloom stuff.”

For his part, UI communications Professor Emeritus Bruce Gronbeck, an expert on political communication, said Obama’s address needs to focus on winning over incredulous citizens, rather than congressional Republicans.

“The most important thing he has to do is convince the American people he’s on the right track so they can put pressure on members of Congress to follow with him for awhile,” Gronbeck said.

To do that effectively, Gronbeck said Obama must put an emphasis on the present state of the stricken economy.

“That’s where the president is the immediate leader,” he said. “But Obama being Obama, he loves to finish with a faith and hope message, and I would be phenomenally surprised if he didn’t do that [tonight].”

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