Liberals and conservatives alike will be gathering throughout the Bay Area this evening to watch and discuss President Obama’s State of the Union address, which is expected to focus primarily on domestic issues such as job creation and health care reform.
The speech comes as the nation continues to deal with 10 percent unemployment and as Congress struggles to pass a health care reform bill.
Organizing for America, a group of volunteers working to promote the goals of the Democratic National Committee, is organizing viewing parties in San Francisco and Oakland tonight.
“We’re looking for him to kind of frame all the hard work we’ve done, and continue the process of change that we’re looking to work on over the next couple years,” said Marlene Madell, a community organizer for the group.
The debate in Congress over the details of the health care reform bill has lasted for most of Obama’s first year in office, and Madell said she’s hoping the president will “reassure the American people and communicate that it’s still something we’re going to get done this year.”
Karl Kenner, another community organizer for the group, said Obama should encourage Democrats, who have majorities in both houses of Congress, to push through their agenda without the help of Republicans.
“We’ve tried bipartisanship, but reaching across the aisle only gets us lots of bites on the hand,” Kenner said. “It’s time to go to work.”
While health care reform remains a big issue in Washington, the economy is at the front of most Americans minds, and Kenner said he expects it to play a big role in Obama’s speech.
“The primary focus is going to be on the economy and on jobs,” he said. “Obviously, we need to get a whole lot more Americans back to work.”
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s conservative-leaning Hoover Institute, agreed that the speech will be about jobs.
“The speech is about jobs, mainly the president’s job,” Whalen said, pointing to Obama’s job approval ratings, which have dropped significantly since he came into office.
“The public was behind him when he was elected, but is undecided about him now,” he said.
Whalen said he believes Obama will use the speech to pivot away from grander ideas and focus on smaller ideas meant to shore up support with the average voter.
“I think it’ll be in the classic Silicon Valley tradition, when a program isn’t working, you reboot,” he said. “It’s time for Obama 2.0.”
The speech will likely focus on these domestic issues, rather than on foreign policy concerns such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Whalen said.
“The president was very prominent on foreign policy when he first came into office, but that’s off the table now,” he said. “If he wants to regain his posture and standing, it starts with the economy.”
Conservatives have also planned gatherings to watch tonight’s speech, including the San Francisco Republican Party, which will meet at The Republic, a bar in the city’s Marina District.
Students at Santa Clara University are holding a viewing on campus. A group of political science students are organizing the event, which will include a discussion with three of the university’s political science professors after the speech, university spokeswoman Connie Kim Coutain said.
Several campus organizations, including the College Democrats and College Republicans, have been invited to join the discussion, which will focus on “what young voters think about Obama and where he’s leading the country,” Coutain said.
The event will be held in the basement of Dunne Hall on campus.
One local college student has been invited to watch the speech in person.
Gabriela Farfan, a freshman geology student at Stanford University, was invited by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Farfan, a 19-year-old Wisconsin native, won a scholarship through the Intel Science Talent Search for her research describing why certain gemstones appear to change color when viewed from different angles.
Tonight’s speech is scheduled for 6 p.m. PST in the chambers of the House of Representatives.