WASHINGTON - President Obama was no doubt hoping his address to the nation Tuesday night would pull him out of the deepening political hole he's been sinking into over the past year.
But this clearly wasn't the best time to say the State of the Union is strong. Not when the U.S. economy remains weak, stocks have taken a beating, millions of people are out of work, wages are stagnant, new home sales fell for the second month in a row, and factory orders plunged in December by a shocking 4.3 percent.
The economic foundations of our country are crumbling. The government has fallen more deeply into debt than any time in its history -- to nearly $17 trillion -- as the president calls for more spending in the naive belief we can spend ourselves into prosperity.
It's harder to find full time employment. The once-mighty U.S.
labor force has shrunk to record low levels as millions of long-term unemployed people have given up looking for jobs that do not exist.
Americans have turned depressingly pessimistic about the future of our country and their lives. Nearly two-thirds of our fellow citizens now believe that "things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track," according to a poll released this week by The Washington Post.
Obama went before Congress last night to tell us how we're doing as a country under his presidency, having just received a failing job approval score that was lower than in any of his previous State of the Union addresses.
The Gallup Poll's closely-watched daily survey Monday reported that only 41 percent of Americans polled like the job he's doing, while a muscular 52 percent disapprove of his performance as our nation's chief executive.
The Post provided a more embarrassing report card on his presidency. Just 37 percent still "say they have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country's future," but a hefty 63 percent said they do not.
At this point in the sixth year of their presidencies, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan enjoyed 60 percent approval ratings that Obama can only dream about.
A number of reports in the past week said that Obama and his advisers were struggling over his address, trying to come up with a new agenda to save his presidency and his party from expected losses in the November midterm elections.
But it's been evident for a long time that Obama hasn't a clue how to get our underperforming economy working again.
In an act of political desperation, the president and his senior advisers have tried to make income inequality the issue, coming up with old, warmed over and discredited ideas like boosting the minimum wage. But that idea has more often led to hard-pressed businesses finding ways to cut their payrolls -- reducing the availability of entry-level jobs in which younger workers obtain necessary training and a pathway to future opportunities and higher incomes.
The growing gap between higher and lower incomes is the result of a weak economy where there are fewer and fewer job opportunities to climb the economic ladder. Talk to any high school or college graduate who say they can't find work to get on the first rung of the ladder.
While Obama and his liberal accomplices are pushing for an agenda focused on income inequality, there is a lot of disagreement among administration advisers who want more concrete proposals. "I don't think voters are saying that we need to make everybody more equal," a senior Democratic campaign official told the Post.
Obama still wants more infrastructure spending, but if the $800 billion stimulus check he got from a Democratic-controlled Congress didn't result in sustained, stronger economic growth, a few hundred billion more won't do it, either.
And then there's Obama's all-purpose snake oil remedy to raise taxes on the rich in order to expand social welfare programs to help the unemployed. But even some of his party's top political advisers have soured on that idea.
A divided Congress is not going to raise tax rates in a sluggish economy and Democrats facing tough elections in the fall have privately told the White House they're not going to support such an agenda.
The "American people are more concerned about how they are doing as opposed to how someone else is doing. So simply saying, 'We're going to raise taxes on the wealthy' is not going to be the kind of answer that satisfies the middle class," says New York's Charles Schumer, the Senate's third highest ranking Democrat.
This is the political conundrum Obama faces in the 2014 midterm election battlegrounds where Republicans are widely expected to gain seats in the Senate, and, just possibly, win a majority.
He can talk all he wants about broadening economic opportunity, and no doubt has a few more executive orders up his sleeve in attempt to do that. One of them, he says, is an executive order to raise the minimum wage for future federal contract workers to $10.10 that will have little or no effect on the economy as a whole.
But he knows he can't get his larger spending agenda to first base on Capitol Hill. Not with a monstrous federal debt outracing the economy's growth rate.
So Obama heads into the sixth year of his presidency, selling the same tattered, thread-bare, impotent economic agenda he's been peddling for the past five years, but with little or no success.
"We hope that he does not dwell on the success of this economy,"
Democratic political analysts James Carville and Stan Greenberg warned Obama in a memorandum just before his address. Obama may think that this plays well among the base of his party, "but it's not felt at the grocery story," they cautioned, or among the broader electorate.
The Republicans are going to pound Democrats on the economy and the lack of good paying, full time jobs in this year's campaigns, and offer a new tax incentive agenda for venture capital investment, new business growth and expanded employment opportunities.
To resurrect a term Obama used to describe his party's defeat in the 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats in for another "shellacking."