Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.


President Barack Obama will face the static of the union tonight as he tries to symbolically stare down the economic insecurity that sweeps the land.

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"He's given speeches before that were considered comeback moments," said one Democratic congressional staffer. "Maybe he can do that again. If he taps into a populist message, you'll hear support from the New York delegation. Listen for a big idea or two."

But annual addresses such as these have a way of proving almost as perishable as sour cream on a grocery shelf. President Bush told the same room in 2002: "Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantánamo Bay. And terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own . . . "

Eight years later, of course, Bush's successor will be mentioning the latest military escalation in Afghanistan.

For practical impact, Obama's budget proposal, due next week, will speak louder than his words Wednesday. And what the House and Senate plan to do with that proposal will speak even louder than that.

Preliminary leaks - always part of this majestic ritual - feature tax breaks such as child-care credits and such measures as income caps on student loans.

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Obama will seek to reassure those of us rattled by the huge federal deficit with a partial spending freeze - which Republicans already decry as inadequate.

Obama will also be seeking an endgame for - or exit strategy from - the domestic quagmire of the past year known as health-care reform.

The electoral context for all this has less to do with Obama than with all the senators and congressmembers on the ballot in the fall. Remember: At the midpoint of his own first term, Clinton saw both houses go Republican.

New Sen. Scott Brown's election combined with other evidence of anti-incumbent sentiment clearly gives jitters to Democrats with something to lose in November.

Amid this economics and emotion, maybe Obama can call his new program something catchy - like, say, the War on Worrying Economically, with an entertaining acronym, WWE. That's the kind of symbolism these speeches are about.

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