My guess is that the president will address Americans' economic anxiety by attempting to use it as a cudgel against Republicans. In the past, he has blamed the tsunami, the European debt crisis, automatic teller machines, oil prices and, most popular, George W. Bush for the economy's terrible performance under his leadership. Tonight the president will tweak this theme by arguing that constant partisan bickering in Washington -- lurching from one crisis negotiation over taxes and spending to another -- has undermined confidence in American leadership. He will say that this discord has created terrible uncertainty and that this uncertainty accounts for the economy's doldrums. He will pledge that he wants to end these high-wire acts and pass a big compromise that will apply a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases.
It's a seductive theory, and the press will believe it. But look at the GDP growth chart from Obama's first term. The great recession ended in the third quarter of 2009. By early 2010, before any of Obama's policies had been implemented, the economy was growing at almost 4 percent (an acceptable, though hardly vigorous, recovery). If Democrats had simply done nothing at that point, the economy would probably have resumed the kind of snap back growth that has characterized previous responses to recessions.
That's not what happened. With Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, Obama got the policies he wanted. No fiscal cliffs, no drama. Democrats added 11,327 regulations to the Federal Register in the first three years of the Obama administration (and that was before the big drivers -- Obamacare and Dodd/Frank really got going). As the Economist magazine noted, America "is being suffocated by excessive and badly written regulation," including "flaws in the confused, bloated law (Dodd/Frank) passed in the aftermath of America's financial crisis."
Democrats also passed an $800 stimulus bill and extended unemployment benefits. They vitiated the work requirement for welfare, vastly expanded food stamp eligibility and dramatically increased the number of working age Americans receiving disability payments. What was the result?
The Obama administration added more to the federal debt that all previous administrations combined. As for economic growth, it slumped after the first quarter of 2010 and has remained mostly anemic since. Economic growth slipped into negative territory in the last quarter of 2012.
This is the Obama economy -- a shrinking private sector drowning in regulations, a voracious public sector always in search of new ways to waste money (wind cars! solar stethoscopes!) and the inexorable ticking, louder every passing day, of the debt bomb.